Putin's grand plans for the Russian Far East
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Presented at the Vladivostok Economic Forum. Transforming the Kurili Islands into an off-shore area. Urban development of Eastern Siberia, with cities of over a million inhabitants. The Kremlin bets on Chinese and Japanese cooperation. Russians aim to make the Arctic route the main link between Europe and Asia.

 

 


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Russian East aims to achieve a "more advanced development" (operežajušee, "of overcoming") that is "absolute and long-term, not for a decade, but for a century to come," stated Vladimir Putin during the plenary session of the Economic Forum of the East in Vladivostok. The Russian president's emphasis is reminiscent of Nikita Khruščev's grandiose eastern plans in the post-war 1960s, when there were plans to "reverse the course of the Siberian rivers."

Hosted in the Russian port overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the border with China, the Forum concluded on September 4. As the initiative's official slogan states, the Kremlin aims to find "new possibilities for the [Russian] Far East in the changing world."

Putin also promised an "unprecedented package" of trade relief and stimulus to realize these spectacular projects in the Kurili Islands, the archipelago disputed with Japan. These privileges will also be made available to Japanese investors themselves, pending the resolution of the conflict that dates back to the end of World War II; a dispute that the Russian president called "nonsense."

Market conditions on the Kurili are to become "the best in the entire Asian Pacific coast," with exemption from profit and property, land and transportation taxes for at least 10 years. The Russian government wants the disputed islands to become an off-shore territory with no value-added tax "until the products leave the territory of the archipelago."

Throughout Russia's Far East macro-region, Putin went on to explain, construction work will have to be multiplied by "at least 1.6 times above the 2019 level." In the Khabarovsk region will be created a special hub for the production of building materials, which are traditionally lacking in these territories. The authorities have proposed to all citizens an "eastern mortgage of 2%", already announced by the deputy premier and representative of the president in the region, Jurij Trutnev, "starting with doctors and teachers".

Construction will be put at the service of urban planning for a major expansion of Far Eastern cities, with the "creation of new metropolises of one million inhabitants and more." This will concern Vladivostok itself, to be joined to the city of Artem. The new metropolis will no longer be, as in the past, "residential centers around large factories, but places of life with man and his needs at the center", according to the words of Trutnev, confirmed by Putin. The new "metropolitan plan" must be ready within the next two years.

The president speaks of a "new economy" that will arise from the East, a green economy to be developed together with all international partners, starting from China and Japan. In the territories on the Pacific coast of Primorje and on those of the Amur river, methanol will be produced, "the fuel of the next generations", with special water plants dedicated to it. In the northern part of the Khabarovsk region, a "tidal" hydroelectric station is also planned, which will use the very energy of ocean waves.

As early as 2022, a northern route for heavy transport will be established from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok via the North Sea. According to Putin, "this will undoubtedly be the future main route of all world transport between Asia and Europe." The northern ports will be supplied with systems for monitoring the eternal ice of the Arctic, which is so important for the climatic conditions of the entire globe. As chairman of the Arctic Council, Russia will propose special expeditions across the polar ice cap.

Moscow intends to play the "eastern card" together with the northern one, in order to relaunch its strategic centrality in the global balance, but to do so it will need the economic support of the great states of Asia, and of the whole world.

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