Russian President Vladimir Putin recently issued an executive order encouraging Russians to explore the far eastern region of the country.
Under the order, all Russian citizens are eligible to apply to the authorities of the Far Eastern Federal District for development rights to any piece of unexplored land in the region of up to 2.5 hectares for agricultural purposes.
After five years, they can apply for permanent ownership of the land if their development effort bears fruit.
The Russian far east accounts for almost one-third of the country’s total area and is among the coldest, harshest and most sparsely populated habitats on Earth.
In winter, temperatures often plummet to as low as -50 degrees C in parts of the region, making it almost impossible to grow any crops there.
Because of its harsh environment, the number of people living in the Russian far east accounts for only 4 percent of the country’s population.
Despite its harsh conditions, however, the region is extremely rich in natural resources, such as timber, oil, coal, precious metals and hydroelectricity.
It also has a very high strategic value, as it is not only home to Vladivostok, the only warm-water port in Russia, but also overlooks major sea routes connecting the Pacific and the Arctic oceans.
Nevertheless, some in Russia have raised doubts about Putin’s plan, given the harsh environment in the region and the country’s sluggish economy.
They said there is too little incentive for people living in the western part of Russia to resettle in the remote far eastern region.
However, official sources in Moscow say that since the decree was announced, the Far Eastern Federal District authorities have steadily been getting applications from across the country.
Some analysts believe that many of these applicants were motivated by patriotic rather than economic reasons: since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow’s sovereignty over its far eastern region has come under direct threat from China and Japan.
In recent years there has also been mounting fear in Russia that the influx of Chinese migrant workers into the region over the past decade could be part of a plot by China to reclaim its lost territory in the Russian far east.
In face of the perceived threat from China, it is not difficult to understand why some diehard Russian patriots would volunteer to “reconquer” their far east.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 7.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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