Despite its huge area that comprises one third of the country’s total territory, the Russian Far East is home to only 6.2 million people – 4.2 percent of Russia’s total population. This region is larger than Western Europe, and is made up by Kamchatka, Primorsky, and Khabavorsk Krais, Magadan and Sakhalin Oblasts, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Vladivostok and Khabavorsk are the largest cities in the region, and each has 600,000 residents. During the socialist era, the doors to the Far East were closed to foreigners because it was the base for the Soviet Union’s Pacific Fleet and the center for many military factories. Although the region opened up starting from 1990, almost two million people left.
The Far East is rich in natural resources, and its annual production comprises 98 percent of Russia’s diamond output, 80 percent of lead, 50 percent of gold, 14 percent of wolframite, 40 percent of fish and sea products, and 13 percent of timber. In order to realize the full potential of these resources, the Russian government has been successfully implementing new initiatives since 2010.
Under this framework, Russia has adopted an objective to develop the Far East by working together with countries in the Asia Pacific region. The first action was making the region host to the 2012 gathering of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders. In anticipation of the biggest international event in the Russian Far East’s history, many large projects were completed in short time, such as renewing infrastructure in Vladivostok and building a new airport, world class hotels, roads, and bridges. A total of 600 billion rubles (~15 billion USD) was spent on these projects since 2010.
Russia’s plan to attract regional investment had to be revamped because of the economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and western nations due to the 2014 annexation of Crimea, and the eastern Ukraine conflict. The first ever Eastern Economic Forum was organized in the Far East in the fall of 2015, and the Russian President himself attended. Despite the Kuril Islands dispute and an absence of peace treaty, Japan supported the purpose of the economic forum, and their Prime Minister indicated that he would attend every year.
At the first forum President Putin said “Our main priorities in the Far East are an active social development policy, building a modern transport and education infrastructure, affordable housing, and a healthcare system providing quality services. Naturally, we are also expanding economic freedom and providing better conditions for Russian and foreign investors to do business, so that the Far East can compete successfully with other leading business centres in effectiveness and returns on capital.”
The first forum was attended by 2,500 political and business leaders from the majority of the Asia-Pacific nations, who signed agreements with a combined value of 19 billion USD. This would make Vladivostok and six other ports free ports, which means ships from any country can go there.
They have also started reducing the tariffs on power and transport as much as possible. Any Russian farmer or producer is now given one hectare of land free of charge if they are starting a business in the region. The Baikal-Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian railways are being improved to expand the potential to transport goods on land. They are also working to make their North Sea maritime route a world class transport corridor.
Besides introducing an online system that receives customs statements in advance, their border control is now integrated and works 24 hours a day. Passengers that come through the Free Port of Vladivostok are given an 8-day visa. By 2035, Asia-Pacific countries are projected to make up one third of Russia’s crude oil and natural gas customers.
The third Eastern Economic Forum is taking place these days, and it is the first time Mongolia has sent the high level dignitaries such as President Kh. Battulga. He has come to the forum along with almost 100 political and business representatives.
The history of "Russia’s Singapore" started when Russky Island, which is geographically separated from the city of Vladivostok by the Eastern Bosphorus strait, was connected to Vladivostok by a 1,885-meter-long cable-stayed bridge in 2012. Today 120 hectares of land, which is one fourth of the island's territory, is comprised of a modern campus that belongs to the Far Eastern Federal University.
Just like the world’s most popular university campuses, there are many hotels, beaches, exhibition and conference venues, a stadium, modern hospitals, research laboratories, and other facilties, besides the classroom and dormitory buildings. The overall style, appearance, structure, and operations of these facilities do give an impression of Singapore.
This campus has already turned into one of the top campuses across the Russian Federation as well as Asia Pacific. The Far Eastern Federal University has been implementing training modules in collabration with the National University of Singapore, and offers MBA programs. The university, which was first established in 1899 by the order of the Emperor Nikolai II, eventually combined other schools in the region. Today it has become a major scientific reseach center and the largest university in the Northeast Asia, with nearly 40,000 students and seven domestic and international branches.
However, what is most noteable is that the university has been turned into a major centre in MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events). MICE is a fast growing tourism industry that focuses on organizing pre-planned international events. Each campus of the university has five hotels, each of which has the capacity to receive 241 guests, and can offer accommodation to a total of 2,000 guests, utilizing other facilities. There are two huge conference halls – one with 600 seats and the other with 900 seats. It is complemented by three meeting rooms with a capacity of 550-600 people, and an exhibition space as wide as 9,000 square meters. On top of that, the university, which looks over the Pacific Ocean, boasts capacity to provide catering to thousands of people.
Russia’s Singapore clearly demonstrates how work to set high standards, establish new working regimes, and fresh lifestyles in vast lands can start with a small town and organically grow when its residents embrace high quality service industries.
Russky Island, Vladivostok
Trans. by B.Amar