The Course of the Development of the Russian Far East and Japan’s Response

|Russia

On 1 September Prime Minister Putin visited Vladivostok and made clear the Russian government’s position on placing importance on the Russian Far East.

The construction of infrastructure related to the 2012 APEC Summit, which is set to be held in Vladivostok, is behind the schedule of the initial plans, and, including locally, doubts have been voiced about its staging. The Prime Minister visited the sites for himself, and his objective was to give a push to the development of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water and sewerage systems and the construction of facilities befitting a host-country, including an international airport, an international conference center, a press center and hotels. He also indicated the immediate removal of the military-related facilities on Russky Island, the planned site for the summit, which had been an obstacle. The APEC-related facilities are planned to be converted into a 100,000-student Far Eastern Federal University, and if realized Vladivostok will probably become an academic park of great importance. This encouraging prime-ministerial visit to the Russian Far East was doubtless meant for the people involved who have been questioning the planned construction to date.

Another large-scale project in the Russian Far East, the construction of the Pacific Ocean pipeline for the transportation of oil from Western Siberia, and that too of the associated petrochemical plant at Kozmino Bay, is also being actualized. Prime Minister Putin also inspected Kozmino Bay on his visit.

With the federal government having doubled the budget, in view of the rising prices of resources, the capital to be sunk into these two massive projects, together with private capital, exceeds 1.5 trillion yen. They have also started up the Federal Program on Economic and Social Development of the Far East and Zabaykalye up to 2013. From 23 September, beginning in Kamchatka, President Medvedev started on an energetic tour of inspection of all areas of the Russian Far East, and there was coverage of his visit to Vladivostok too. Although Russians are prone to be skeptical of government programs, talk can be heard of a realization that the government has finally begun to turn its attention to the Russian Far East as well.

The confrontation between Europe and the United States and Russia triggered by the conflict in Georgia at the beginning of August, and the subsequent recognition by Russia of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has isolated Russia among the G8 member nations. While the countries of the EU, which are greatly dependent on Russia for energy, are threatening economic sanctions and increasing the pressure on Russia, Prime Minister Putin’s visit to Vladivostok, in calling for importance to be placed on the Russian Far East, can also be seen as attempting to demonstrate a diversionary position to Europe and the United States.

How should Japan get involved in such large-scale projects, which are moving forward in Japan’s immediate vicinity? As for the Japanese government’s strengthening of relations with the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia, an “initiative to strengthen the Japan–Russia cooperation in the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia” was proposed to then President Putin at the Heiligendamm Summit in June 2007 by then Prime Minister Abe, and cooperation moved forward in eight sectors, including energy, transportation and communications. Alongside this arrangement the positive approach toward Russia of the local governments which line the Sea of Japan has also attained prominence. Exports of the materials and equipment and Japanese technology for the development of infrastructure and the construction of housing in the Russian Far East will probably increase.

Prime Minister Putin, at the economic forum held recently in Sochi, remarked that the expanding US–Russia arms race since the conflict in Georgia has the potential to put a brake on the pressing ahead with structural changes in the Russian economy via an innovative diversification of industry. The furthering of economic cooperation with Russia, which has forged a strengthening of links with the nations of the Asia-Pacific and moved toward the actual development of the Russian Far East, is important. I hope that the putting together of a US-led new Cold War driving Russia into isolation is not something that will affect the strengthening of Japan–Russia economic relations in an East Asia with China and the ROK holding back.

[Translated by ERINA]