Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Moscow Must Focus on the Heartland, ‘the Secret Key’ to Russian Development, Shuvalov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 1 – Vladimir Putin has been focusing on the Russian Far East and the High North, but he should be devoting more attention to the core of the Russian Federation because its development provides “the secret key” to the successful development of Russia, Grigory Shuvalov says.

            The Russian writer from Vologda makes his case by applying a term first developed more than a century about international relations to arrangements within the Russian Federation now and in the future (

            In 1904, British thinker Halford Mackinder began promoting what came to be called “the heartland theory,” the notion that whatever country controlled Eastern Europe would control the heartland and that whoever controlled the heartland would be in a position to dictate its will to the world as a whole.

            Now, Shuvalov is importing this term from international relations into domestic affairs and arguing that while Russia has always focused on its more recently absorbed border areas and while building up Siberia and the Far East remains strategically important, developing “’the old’ territory’” of Central Russia – “the Russian Heartland” – is essential.

            The Russian Heartland included Vladimir, Vologda, Ivanovo, Nizhny Novgorod, Novgorod, Pskov Smolensk, Tver and Yaroslavl oblasts. It doesn’t include Karelia, Pomorye, and the Kola peninsula or Moscow and St. Petersburg. Instead, it “embraces Moscow in a semicircle from the north and St. Petersburg from the east.”

            It amounts to approximately 10 percent of the country’s area and just over 10 percent of its population, although the latter has been declining over recent decades. It has a significant industrial base, but it has many problems that must be addressed: The exodus of young people must be stopped.

            One way to do that is to create a serious educational system there. At present, there is not a single federal higher educational institution in the federal district of which it is a part. Another is that the region lacks an adequate highway system. More roads and bridges must be build linking various parts of it together rather than only with Moscow.

            The Arctic and Far Eastern hectare program is fine, “but today we need a Pskov, Tver, Vologda and Kostroma program of the same kind. We need a one-story Russia, not an anthill in the center of a motherland the rest of which has been left deserted,” the Vologda writer continues.

            Some of these things are already happening, but they need to be the focus of attention and receive more support. “The Russian Heartland requires special attention. If we begin to develop these territories at forced march speed today, tomorrow they will become the locomotive of the development of the entire country,” Shuvalov says.

            As some reasons will recall, Shuvalov is not the first to make this argument. Almost 60 years ago, the late UC Berkeley geographer David Hooson published A New Soviet Heartland in which he focused on the possibility of the ethnic Russian core of the RSFSR becoming the center around which the rest of that republic and all the others would revolve.

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