Monday, May 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: New Moscow Proposals Infuriate Russians in Siberia, Far East

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 25 – Two Moscow proposals last week – President Dmitry Medvedev’s suggestion that China help develop the Russian Far East and a Duma suggestion that Siberian river water be diverted to Central Asia – are adding to the outrage many Russians beyond the Urals feel, as the recent wave of protests in Vladivostok , toward the central government.
In a commentary significantly entitled “The Question: TOGETHER or IN PLACE OF Russia?” Alekandr Protsenko argues that Medvedev’s call for Beijing to invest in the Russian Far East represents a threat to Russia’s territorial integrity, especially since Moscow lacks the resources to do so itself (
Eight months ago, Protsenko points out, Medvedev himself said that “Russia could lose the Far East if it does not take immediate measures for its development.” But now that Moscow’s strategic plan for the region is nearly ready for release, it is obvious Moscow does not have the money to invest there.
Consequently, Medvedev is looking to the Chinese. Their participation, the Russian analyst suggests, “could only be welcomed” if it occurred “TOGETHER” with Russia. But now it is clear that, given Moscow’s budgetary restrictions and plans, Chinese involvement will be “INSTEAD of Russia.”
The difference between the two is fundamental, he suggests, because the population and economy of the regions of China bordering the Russian Federation are booming while the population and economy of the Russian regions involved are in decline, with the latter now amounting to no more than 7.6 million Russian speakers.
And Moscow’s failure to invest in the development of the region overall is highlighted by its willingness to spend enormous sums on preparations for a summit of the Asian Pacific Economic Zone, Protsenko continues, noting that it is building a bridge for that meeting that only 4500 residents might use after it.
Moreover, the new buildings being prepared for this meeting will fall into disuse. There will be space for more students than the Russian Far East can possibly generate, Protsenko suggests. And he asks rhetorically whether Moscow is putting “all its hopes” on the Chinese, something many people in the region would find disturbing.
Adding insult to injury, Siberian news agencies reported last week, the head of the Duma committee on CIS affairs, Aleksey Ostrovsky, has proposed taking up again the idea of diverting Siberian river water to Central Asia in order to boost Moscow’s prestige and influence in the region (
“Many scholars and certain statesmen,” Ostrovsky said, “have frequently spoken of the necessity of diverting a number of Siberian rivers.” But Siberian commentators have founded out that the Duma leader apparently is unaware of the negative meteorological and climatologic consequences such actions would involve.
Nor does Ostrovsky seem to remember that it was those consequences, as well as the cultural impact of such changes, that led “practically all thoughtful scholars of the Soviet Union” to rise up and, they thought, kill for all time this project which has periodically surfaced over the last 140 years.
On the one hand, experts at Irkutsk’s portal say, any such program will be yet another chance for corruption. But on the other, they conclude, Ostrovsky’s proposal “cannot be assessed as other than a betrayal of the interests of Siberians in the name of doubtful political bonuses” for Moscow.

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