Regarding the President’s Visit to the Russian Far East

|Russia

President V. Putin visited Far Eastern Russia at the end of August. Presidential visits to the region, which is far from such key cities as Moscow, are few and far between, and it is always hoped that they will herald a breakthrough in solving the mountain of problems afflicting the region, as well as deepening exchange with the Asia Pacific region. It is too early to judge the efficacy of this visit; however, I can point out some noteworthy trends concerning the strategy for the development of the Russian Far East and cooperation with neighboring countries.

First of all, the President described the Russian Far East as “the most distinctive region in Russia” (by virtue of its ice-free ports and location adjacent to the rapidly developing Asia Pacific region, etc.) and, as a matter of fact, remarked upon the necessity of “special treatment” by the central government. Although the government has cut the number of specific projects requiring an injection of government funds, which are known as federal programs, the development program for the Far Eastern Russian region will be continued.

Secondly, the monumental challenge was set of doubling GDP and creating new employment opportunities for 600,000 people in Far Eastern Russia. From this announcement, it can be deduced that the government has taken a stance of placing greater importance on upgrading and adding value to the industrial structure, technological innovation, and strengthening cooperation with regions, including Northeast Asia. For example, when he visited marine nature reserve in the Russian Far East, the President emphasized the necessity of actively expanding the production and export of marine produce by introducing foreign investment. He also paid a visit to Nereida, a marine produce farm which occupies an area of 2,400ha of sea at Kitovy Bay in Primorskiy krai, and took the introduction of advanced technology as his main theme. Nereida has been promoting added value and the diversification of the production structure in cooperation with a research institute at the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This could be described as a successful example of collaboration between business and academia. In addition to blue sea mussels, scallops and sea tangles, the company recently started breeding sea cucumbers and shrimps.

Thirdly, the President has expressed his intention of tackling in earnest Far Eastern Russia’s major problems: energy and transportation. In particular, the focus has been shifted towards making use of the Russian Far East’s abundant resources, including natural gas and water, moving away from a tendency to depend on an influx of expensive coal from other regions. In addition, he indicated his intention to take advantage of Far Eastern Russia’s alternative energy potential, which is reputed to be the biggest in the world. To be specific, a wind-powered electricity generating station will be built in Kamchatskaya oblast.

The President emphasized that he would not permit a sense of isolation to arise among the residents of the Russian Far East as a result of its remoteness from other regions. In order to address the necessity of active efforts to develop such transportation infrastructure as airports, as well as upgrading communications networks, such initiatives will receive priority in the allocation of each ministry’s budget for state investment projects.

Fourthly, a summit was held in Vladivostok between President V. Putin and General Secretary Kim Jong Il of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). This was the third summit between Russia and the DPRK since 2000. Russia has actively been striving to advance the integration of the DPRK into international society. There are signs of cooperation between Japan and Russia relating to policy vis-a-vis the DPRK. It has been reported that President Putin conveyed to General Secretary Kim Japanese concerns about such issues as the abduction of Japanese nationals, and called for the normalization of relations between Japan and the DPRK.

On the subject of economic cooperation, President Putin raised the issue of a major project to develop the railroad running through the ROK and the DPRK and link it to the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Implementation of this project will increase the volume of freight transported on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. On the other hand, there are fears that it may decrease the amount of cargo handled by ports in the Russian Far East. As it turned out, President Putin indicated his desire to implement the project, saying that, “if Russia does not carry out this project, our partner – China – will”. However, at the same time, it is necessary to devise measures to increase utilization of ports in the Russian Far East. At expert level, Russia has already been involved in the development of the railroad running through the Korean Peninsula. Russian experts recently compiled a proposal for repairing a branch line running along the Japan Sea (East Sea) coast of the DPRK.

[Translated by ERINA]