Staunton, April 14 – Moscow must come up with a development strategy for Siberia and the Russian Far East that links these regions with European Russia or face the prospect that over time, the residents of these enormous territories will decide that their fate depends not on the Russian center but on China and other Asian countries, according to a Moscow analyst.
In a commentary in the current “Novaya politika,” Sergey Chernyakhovsky says that simply promoting the development of Siberia and the Far East is not enough because some kinds of development could make these areas less connected to Moscow and make them more closely tied with foreign powers (novopol.ru/-trete-osvoenie-sibiri-text100298.html).
Given “the economic and transportation degradation of the last quarter century,” he writes, people in Siberia and the Far East “feel ever less their ties” with Moscow. As a result, “separatist tendencies are growing although they are now yet openly declared politically” because people there are “ever more integrated with Japan and China.”
And the rise of such attitudes beyond the Urals, Chernyakhovsky continues, has led to discussions typically in private but sometimes in public that Moscow will have to give up “the entire territory beyond the Urals to someone or other.” But preventing that outcome is “not only a question of ‘modernization’ of the country.”
What is required, Chernyakhovsky says, is “a new assimilation of Siberia,” involving not only the exploitation of its wealth but also the integration of the region into Russia as a whole. “If the country as a state-political subject cannot secure the development of Siberia, it will not have the strength or even the moral basis to hold it.”
This third assimilation of Siberia – the first two were in tsarist and Soviet times – will require increasing the region’s population to all-Russian densities and the design of investment programs that will work to the benefit of Russia not only immediately but in the long term rather than only to foreign states.
In designing this program, the Moscow analyst continues, Russians need to ask themselves two questions: “Where will investments go in this region?” and “how will the pattern of such investments affect the vector of integration of Siberia and the Far East?”
According to Chernyakhovsky, investments in this region can go into three distinct spheres. The first involves the extraction and processing of raw materials; the second, “the construction of communications and the development of infrastructure;” and the third, “the development of industrial potential and its technological reconstruction.”
Moscow has been able to attract foreign capital for the first but has given little thought to the long-term consequences of doing so, but the center has had and will continue to have far more difficulties in getting foreign investment in the second and third because those are long-term and will benefit Russia more than anyone else.
In coming up with a strategy for Russia beyond the Urals, Moscow needs to reflect on the differences between an East-West axis of development which will strengthen the country and a North-South one which will weaken it, regardless of how much “modernization” there is otherwise.
Such a focus on these risks, Chernyakhovsky says, is needed because “given the incompetence which the federal center and the Russian powers that be frequently show,” only such a focus will lead them to act in the correct way, “simply out of a feeling of self-preservation.”
In sum, he says, “Russia needs not only to find a means of attracting capital for the development of Siberia and the Far East but of attracting it in a necessary and profitable configuration for itself and for these regions as well.” So far, this strategy is not on offer, but Moscow needs to come up with it soon.