Staunton, Sept. 3 – In the eighteenth century, Peter the Great moved the Russian capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg to open a window on Europe. In the early 20th century, Vladimir Lenin moved the capital back to Moscow to protect his regime from attack. Now, Vladimir Putin wants to establish a third Russian capital in the Far East as a window on Asia.
While there is no indication that the current Kremlin leader wants to move the entire Russian government from its current location to an expanded Vladivostok, his proposals and those of defense minister Sergey Shoygu among others suggests Putin very much wants to leave his mark by taking that step.
In a commentary for the URA news agency, Sergey Dianov argues that the current Kremlin leader wants to “transform the Far East from the point of view of economic growth” and make it into “an alternative to Moscow and St. Petersburg,” symbolically changing the direction Russia faces from Europe to Asia (ura.news/articles/1036282948).
Speaking in Vladivostok yesterday, Putin signaled his interest in such a project, one that reflects both the preference for giant game-changing efforts he shares with earlier Russian leaders and specific economic and political calculations about the ways in which such a program will allow Russia to integrate into the growing Asia-Pacific region.
“Look how the economy of the countries of the Asian region are developing,” Putin said. “Russia has the happy opportunity by developing its territory to be part of this rapidly developing world.” He said much has been done already but to preserve its achievements, Russia must take more dramatic steps.
Russian commentators responded by suggesting that what Putin is about is what his predecessors did. Nikita Maslennikov of the Institute of Contemporary Development said that the Kremlin leader wants to open “a window” on Asia so as to be able to take advantage of where foreign economic development is greatest.
“In the next 10 to 20 years,” he continued, “the Asian-Pacific region will be the main center of the world economy, with more than 50 percent of the global GDP. To the extent that we are a Eurasian country, we are historically fated to be there, and the Far East is ‘the window’ through which Russia will export its production.”
Moscow must hurry, Maslennikov suggests. “If we are not able to develop the Far East, then we simply will be excluded from this new center of the world economy and will remain its supplier rather than a full-fletched participant.”
Vasily Kashin of the Center for Complex European and International Research of the Higher School of Economics says that if Moscow succeeds in reorienting its focus, “the Far East can become a new Russian economic center and aspire to the status of an alternative to Moscow and St. Petersburg.”
“When St. Petersburg was built by Peter the Great, Russia entered the European market, the city began to develop as a result of the huge flow of exports, and became the most important in the country,” Kashin says. “Somewhat later when trade opened through the Black Sea, a similar story took place with Odessa, which in the 19th century became second after Petersburg.”
The situation in the Far East now is something similar and offers similar opportunities, the HSE scholar says.
And Vladimir Klimanov of the Center for Regional Policy of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service says that the government’s plans to expand Vladivostok into a city with a million residents will make it for the Russian Federation “the main entrepot to the regions of Asia”
“The eastern vector is strengthening,” he says. “But the Far East is continuing to lose population and private investments. Limits on the development of relations with Asia thus arise on our side and not on its. These are questions which must be resolved. If we lose these markets, then someone else will move in and take them.”