Monday, January 12, 2009

Window on Eurasia: ‘Siberia Must Not Become the New Alaska,’ Russian Nationalists Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 12 – Unless Moscow moves to shore up its own position in Siberia and the Russian Far East, those regions will be used by outside powers “for the solution of their own tasks of survival and development” much as the United States has used Alaska over the last 140 years, two prominent Russian nationalist writers warn.
But instead of moving to block that threat, Valery Aleksandrov and Maksim Kalashnikov argue, Moscow under Vladimir Putin is pursuing a “colonial” policy that is only further undermining Russia’s position there (, and
Moscow’s current focus on profits from the export of natural resources to the exclusion of all other considerations not only is opening the way for foreign firms and foreign governments to play a bigger role but is leading ever more residents of this region to think about getting out from under Moscow’s thumb and either forming their own country or becoming part of another.
Unless the Russian government changes its course and unless it reorganizes the way in which the country is run, the two say, it will not only lose control of this region but will lose much of its standing in a world which is set to enter what they and many other authors have called “the Pacific Century.”
“For the Americans,” the two begin, “the symbol of great success was the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire and the ensuring period of its conquest. The gold of Alaska played the role of a strong catalyzer of the industrial and trade development of the United States at that time,” in much the same way that its oil reserves do now.
Not surprisingly, Americans have “periodically” considered the possibility of “purchasing Siberia,” an enormous undeveloped region which could Aleksandrov and Kalashnikov write could serve as a new “elixir of youth” for the United States in its current period of crisis.
Most Russian analysts and officials self-confidentially assume at the present time that since the area of the Russian Federation beyond the Urals is so much larger than Alaska, the United States could not possibly absorb it. They are more concerned about Chinese expansion, something they discount because residents of the region would resist it.
But those who think Moscow can continue on its current course without putting itself at risk of losing control not only over the resources of Siberia and the Far East but even of Russian sovereignty there are blindly ignoring two increasingly important realities, Aleksandrov and Kalashnikov write.
On the one hand, Moscow’s colonial policies have offended so many Siberians and Far Easterners that many view being part of the US or its extended empire as a better deal than remaining under Russian control. And on the other, the US has far more experience and resources to deploy in absorbing unoccupied lands.
Unfortunately, the two say, Moscow’s current approach of neglecting the geopolitical aspects of Russia beyond the Urals is being reinforced not only by its short-term pursuit of wealth but also by the views of many Russian and American analysts who argue that the region is “a ballast” on Russian development and that Moscow would be better off without it.
“But,” the two write, “Siberia is part of Russia! Therefore [the country] must do everything possible and impossible for keeping Siberia within Russia. And this means that it is time to shift from the raw material model of its development to a strategy of making Siberia a center of innovation.”
Is this possible? The two ask rhetorically, and their answer is remarkably pessimistic at least in the short term: “The corrupt, raw-materials-focused, bureaucratically limited Russian Federation will inevitably lose Siberia and will not be able to develop it. If Russian agreed that Ukraine and Belarus forever will be separated and ‘have their own fates,’ then it is entirely logical that [they] will turn away from Siberia as well.”
Aleksandrov and Kalashnikov suggest that there are five steps that Russia must take and take immediately if Siberia is to remain part of Russia: It must adopt a “homestead” program to hold the population there and to attract more people to the region. It must adopt special tax and subsidy programs for the region as a whole.
Moreover, Moscow must promote breakthrough technologies there to force development. It must crackdown on corruption in the raw materials sphere there. And it must improve its military position there by building up the army and fleet, although the two say that this last is far from the most important.
The creation of “an innovation ‘paradise’ beyond the Urals and on the shores of the Pacific Ocean,” they write, “is the way out for Russia from the global systematic crisis of capitalism that is breaking out before our eyes. It is a means of using the enormous energy of Russian enthusiasm and the striving for historical revenge for the national catastrophe of 1991.”
If Russia turns away from its colonial policies in the region, then, they argue, “we will finally overcome the consequences of the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century: the collapse of the Soviet Union. More than that,” they insist, “we will [then] create a new Union by creating the basis” for attracting some of the other republics back.

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