Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Moscow’s Failure in the Arctic Only Highlights Its Mistaken Approach to Russia as a Whole, Nifontova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – For more than ten years, Moscow has been talking about the development of the Arctic regions of Russia, but it has achieved few results because it has approached that region as if it were like any other and has assumed that market forces alone will solve the problems of the North, Margarita Nifontova says.

            To be sure, the independent journalist writes in Nezavisimaya gazeta, there has been some improvement in the defense network in the north, icebreakers have been built, and even some additional money for state programs, “but where is the sense in all this” when the people of the region continue to flee (ng.ru/ideas/2019-06-17/7_7599_ideas1.html).

            Settlements in the Russian Arctic ever more often “recall films about the Apocalypse, with cosmically high prices for goods, low pay, and infrastructure that isn’t in practice developing at all.”   There is no vision of what should be true there 20 or even better 50 years from now. And the center’s interventions often backfire.

            But of course, this is true “not only in the Arctic. That is how things have taken shape in the most recent period of the history of our country where the main thing is not real results of any work but rather immediate hype and the appearance of something having been done,” along with an overreliance on market forces that can’t address everything.

            “It is possible, Nifontova says, that such an approach works “somewhere” but it doesn’t work in the Arctic. Moscow needs to take its specific conditions into account just as it must but doesn’t take into account the enormous variations across the entire country but instead acts as if one size, defined by the market, fits all.

            The independent journalist focuses on the situation in the Arctic region of the Sakha Republic, where population has fallen by more than half since 1991 and ever more people are leaving because there is no way the market can support a larger population and the government does not have the means or interest in compensating.

            Her specific figures are devastating, and she insists that what she says about the Arctic zone of Sakha is true of the Russian Arctic from Finland to the Bering Straits.  And she ciets the words of Vyacheslav Shtyrov, the former header of Sakha who now chairs the Russian Council on the Arctic and Antarctic.

            “The ideology of economic liberalism dominating at the government level,” Shtyrov says, “presupposes a standard normative-legal approach to all the macro-regions of the country. It is thought that the rational territorial location of productive forces will be automatically guaranteed by the actions of the market.”

            “But the realization of this ideology in our country, with its enormous natural-climatic and economic-geographic diversity of its regions leads to a direct threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian state,” he continues. 

            Nifontova says she doesn’t want to overdramatize the situation, “but if the current course toward ‘mastering the Arctic’ continues unchanged, then nothing will remain there. And those workers who will be used to exploit its natural wealth won’t need to be Russians.” Others will take advantage of the situation.

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