Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Administrative Borders in Russian Far North have ‘No Real Meaning,’ Geographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 25 – Population density in the central portions of the Russian North is so low and declining so fast that administrative-territorial borders have “no real meaning,” despite their importance elsewhere and apparent significance there, according to Yury Golubchikov, a geographer at Moscow State University.

            The northernmost portions of Central Siberia form as it were “the northern façade of Russia,” he writes in Nezavimaya gazeta today. Indeed, this enormous territory has become “the center of Russia” because with the disintegration of the USSR, the country’s mid-point shifted from Tomsk Oblast to Krasnoyarsk Kray (

            And the population and hence population density of this enormous region is extremely low: If in Siberia and the Far East as a whole, there are approximately two people for every square kilometer, in the Evenk and Taymyr regions of Krasnoyarsk Kray, there is only one person for every 10 to 50 square kilometers.

            As a result, Golubchikov writes, “the administrative-territorial borders are conditional and do not have any real importance.” 

            “For example,” he continues, “the Taymyr Region … has an area greater than that of Ukraine and Belarus taken together.” When it ceased to be an autonomous district in 2006, it was given the Dikson municipality as well, a territory of some 219,000 square kilometers, or almost five times the size of Moscow Oblast.

            Dikson is in many regards “the capital of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route;” but there are few people there: “Three decades ago, 5,000 people lived there; by 2016, [only] 609 remained. The settlement is 500 kilometers away from Dudinki, the capital of the Taymyr Region, where there are 23,500 residents.

            “But there is no direct flight: A plane flies only once a week along the Krasnoyarsk-Norilsk-Dikson route,” the geographer says.

            South of the Taymyr Region is the Evenk district which was autonomous until 2005. “It is smaller than the Taymyr, but also exceeds the area of Ukraine plus Moldova. In Ture, its capital, live 5500 residents”  Golubchik says. Only about 10,000 more live spread across its enormous territory.

            Nowhere on earth “with the exception of the Arctic islands and Antarctica can one find a region so difficult to reach as this portion of the Russian North, he continues.  Chukotka is more accessible because of the ocean, and Sakha is connected with the rest of the country by roads and railways.  But one can only fly or use icebreakers to get to the North of Central Siberia.

            “The massive depopulation of the Russian North” over the last 25 years when more than a million people have left for the southern and western portions of the country, the geographer argues, “has become a threat to national security.”  And something must be done to reverse this trend and repopulate the region.

            Golubchik suggests that tourism may be the answer. “Nowhere in the Arctic can one find a region with such ethnic diversity of indigenous peoples,” and tourism works in such places because it is necessarily seasonal and thus does not destroy the traditional way of life of such communities.

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