In the east something new, but also much old

Vladivostok is the terminus of the trans-siberian railway. 166 hours by train or eight hours by plane from moscow. To ensure that the city and the entire far east province do not feel left behind, billions have been flowing there for years. But the most important goal has been missed so far.

When vladimir putin talks about russia's far east, you can literally hear the big breath the topic holds for him. A fateful question for the unity of the country, that the people there see the same opportunities for themselves as elsewhere and that the migration is stopped. A historic mission to modernize this long-neglected province and make it more livable. Stuff for the history books, for monuments and decorations.

"Colossal importance"

The far east administrative district is twice the size of the entire european part of russia and 20 times the size of germany. It includes eleven regions, among them the vast yakutia, which in terms of area is surpassed only by seven countries in the world, the kamchatka peninsula with its volcanoes, or the chukchi autonomous okrug, from where it is less than a hundred kilometers between the russian and american mainland on the other side of the bering strait. What all these areas have in common is that they are sparsely populated. The entire administrative district has a population of only 8.1 million – less than moscow. The development, which is of "colossal importance" for russia, is about prospects "not only for the next decades, but for centuries," president putin said at the eastern economic forum in vladivostok in early september. Above-average growth rates in this part of the country would have a "long-term and absolute priority".

The economic forum, launched in 2015 to attract investors to russia's far east, once again saw no shortage of headline-grabbing initiatives. An agreement was signed to build a new city called sputnik. 300.000 people are expected to live there at some point, 30 kilometers outside of vladivostok. This is also to be understood as a promotional measure for the province. Tax privileges for investors, discounted mortgage interest rates or subsidized airline tickets are some other. Since 2012 russia even has its own ministry for the far east and the arctic. In 2016, a media-rich program called "far eastern hectare" was launched: every russian can get one hectare of land in the administrative district absolutely free of charge this way.

Upheaval without breakthrough

But none of this has yet led to a real trend reversal. The population of the province continues to do what it has been doing since 1992: it is decreasing. The only increase in these almost 30 years was recorded in 2019, but it was not for demographic reasons, but for administrative ones: the regions of transbaikalia and buryatia were added to the far eastern administrative district, giving it two million new inhabitants in one fell swoop. Of course, this did not change the sobering overall picture. Year after year, population statistics show a minus of 10.000 to 20.000 people from.

At the same time, the birth rate in the area is higher than the national average, according to official figures. The fact that this is hardly noticeable on the bottom line is due to the completely different scale of those who are turning their backs on their homeland in search of a better life further west in russia. With the "far eastern hectare" this negative migration should be countered with a positive one. This has only worked out to a very limited extent. Only about 90.000 people have taken advantage of the offer so far. The number also includes local residents, who were even given priority in the selection of plots of land.

Migration in the "wrong" direction

Just a new settler movement from west to east as at the beginning of the 20. So, the economic boom of the twentieth century under the then prime minister pjotr stolypin, when several million people moved to siberia, has not been set in motion. When the program started, it was undoubtedly expected to be much better. Yuri trutnev, the president's representative for the far east, expected at that time that the current size of the participants would be reached as early as 2017.

But low wages and social problems are not only a problem for the "fernossis," and are considered to be the main causes of the ongoing exodus. They are equally deterring potential newcomers. Of course, this has not escaped the notice of the kremlin. Putin calls the situation a "challenge. He was seen on russian television saying: "if everything were as good as we would like it to be, so that people also felt it, then there would be an influx, not a move away." Around the economic forum, he talked a lot about social issues, about housing, health care and clean air. He also announced additional billion-dollar payments. The internet newspaper "wsgljad" recently ran the headline: "how the far east can become a 'russian california." Looks like it will take at least a little while until then.

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