President Putin’s understanding of the Far East – From his speech in Blagoveschensk –

|Russia

On July 21, 2000, President Putin visited Blagoveschensk, Amur oblast in Far Eastern Russia on his way back from the DPRK. He attended a meeting held by the Interregional Association of Economic Coordination,”Far East and Zabaikalie”, and made a speech. We can read his whole speech on the President’s web site (http://president.kremlin.ru/events/50.html). Looking through the speech, I would like to discuss how President Putin and his administration conceive and understand Far Eastern Russia at present as well as to analyze the character and peculiarity of the Putin Administration.

At the beginning of the speech, President Putin honestly admitted that “the long-term development program in Far East and Zabaikalie” adopted in April 1996, was hardly executed and had no effect. He claimed that the biggest reason for the failure was that the substance of the program was far away from reality and the little invested funding was consumed and diversified. In addition to that, he stressed that he regarded the policy for Far Eastern Russia as in need of fundamental reform, and the program had to be reconsidered.

Furthermore, he said, “If we don’t make any practical and concrete efforts, Russians in this region will speak Japanese, Chinese or Korean instead of Russian in the future.” That is to say, a large population and economic dynamism of Northeast Asian countries may take over Far Eastern Russia. Here, we can witness President Putin’s political intention to unify and move the nation by appealing to Russian nationalism.

He also claimed that some factors lacking in Far East have made it difficult for the Union to carry out the politics in the region as follows; regional unification as a whole, the mutual economic relationship and the ordinary partnership among the local leaders. In order to overcome this situation, he stated that it is most important to transform the region from “the complex with weak correlation, or conglomerate” to “unified organization, or organism”. He referred to the president’s position as one first deputy in the Far Eastern Russian Union district established in May, which has played a vital role in the transformation. With this, he nonchalantly emphasized the necessity of the reform of local administration he has carried out, which is to establish and strengthen the system of authority throughout the nation, with the President at the top. In addition to this, he stated that the invested money from the Union to the Far East, which had been diversified and eventually lost its efficacy, could now be concentrated on the highest priority matters if the Union district controlled the execution by itself.

The president referred to the economic problems in half of his speech. However, he talked about the electrical crisis and the lack of infrastructure such as transportation and communication most of the time, as readers from the central Union usually mentioned, and that made the speech rather boring. In other words, what he did was to just point out the well-known problems of the economy in the Far East, so that his speech did not deliver a specific image for future development. Judging from it, President Putin and his aides’ understanding of the economy in Far East have not yet overcome the stereotype that the Far East is a remote region behind in its development.

On the one hand, the President stated that, “Far East Russia is rich in underground resources, rivers and the oceans and it has every possibility to become one of the most prosperous areas”. On the other hand, he added that if the development doesn’t succeed, “we will bite our thumbs and look at the buildings standing on the other side like a forest” and appealed to public sentiment again. Besides, he pointed out that though they “have high levels of science, education and culture”, Russia “has been behind” other countries. It must be the feeling that all the inhabitants in Far Eastern Russia have in common. That is, while they witness China on its way towards development and the advancement of Japan and the Republic of Korea, they stare at the stagnation of their country, which once divided the world into two with its supremacy, with disappointment and irritation. We should not ignore that not only expectation but also this kind of feeling certainly exists when they fastened their eyes on the other side of the bank. In this meaning, President Putin captures the sensibility of people in the Far East.

Since many countries rouse nationalism on the way to economic development, we should not think of Russia now as especially dangerous. For instance, Japan once roused its nation under the slogan of “catching up with Europe and the US, and overtaking”. At any rate, we can observe well the characteristics of Putin’s Administration in his speech in Blagoveschensk, which are symbolized as “strong Russia”, “verticality of power” and “autocracy of the law”.

[Translated by ERINA]