Siberia's colossal resource potential is a great competitive advantage that needs to be skilfully deployed.
We simply must do all we can to keep people in Siberia, and for that we must set clear priorities, concentrate on them, find solutions to clearly defined tasks and transform Siberia into the major base for the strengthening of the Russian state. Picture: Hamar-Daban nature reserve, Trans-Baikal, Siberia, courtesy Alexey Bezrukov
The Russian Federation set a new priority, namely the advanced development of Eastern Siberia and the country's Far East. Gigantic resources are allocated to reach the goals, while work is also underway on legal and organisational schemes.
What do the leaders of the regions make of it? Pyotr Bogdanov talks to Alexander Uss, a Chairman of Krasnoyarsk Legislative Assembly, president of Siberian Federal University, Doctor of Law, and Professor, on his thoughts on the new initiatives.
He already made a report for Russia's Foreign Defence Policy Council on the future of Siberia and possible scenarios for development. In a way, he sees creating an ideology of the development of Siberia's vast expanses as his political credo.
Alexander Uss: 'Siberia is the primary base to strengthen the Russian state'.
'The new development of Siberia has always interested me as both a scientist and a man in power - and as a Siberian,' he says. 'I have been making my position clear in scientific publications and newspaper articles.
'I must say that many Russian and foreign researchers devoted their works to the theme of Siberia's development, including well known political analyst Sergey Karaganov, economist and sociologist Vladimir Inozemtsev, along with American expert Marshall Goldman and influential German political analyst Alexander Rahr.
'The past year has seen a number of landmark federal initiatives linked to the development of Siberia and the Far East of Russia. Krasnoyarsk hosted the 10th Forum of Economics in February 2013 where one of the most intensive debates was on the question 'Siberia on the map of the global growth....', a discussion involving both big businesses and Russian federal government chairman'.
Q: But right now we are talking about your position - so how should Siberia be developed?
Alexander Uss: 'We must create a new ideology of the development of the vast Siberian territories before moving to specific recommendations. Year 2012 gave us some hope, with the Russian federal centre speaking first about a corporation for Siberia development, and then on creating a Far East Development Ministry. Regardless of how successful these projects are, the movement in this direction deserves a positive assessment.
'Russia has to answer several fundamental questions first. How should we develop Siberia, by selling raw materials or by creating high technology processing manufacturers? Do we have to work on rising the standard of living for Siberians and increase a number of people coming to live in Siberia - or would it be enough just to use the outside labour? How beneficial is the strategy of accelerated development of Siberia for our country?
Alexander Uss and, below Siberian Hamar-Daban nature reserve. Pictures: Alexander Uss, Alexey Bezrukov
Q: Are there too many questions?
Alexander Uss: 'None of them are idle. These are the questions that along with others form the vector of Siberia's eastern development, as outlined by our country's President Vladimir Putin. When we start talking about a necessity of accelerating development of Siberia, it is often seen as a wish to get benefits.
'If you consider the long-term development of territories like the Caucasus, or Vladivostok or Kaliningrad region, it has always been linked to the specific issues in these regions, which federal money were supposed to help with, along with assisting prosperity growth.
'Siberia is a completely different story. The accent on its development must be made not only with a view of raising living standards in Siberia - though of course this is important - but above everything else to achieve a breakthrough into the future for the whole country.
'We are not talking pulling a financial blanket towards Siberian regions - we are not after allowances. It is necessary to create an instrument that will work for the whole country. It is Siberia that has preconditions that can lead to the increase of both productivity and the gross domestic product. But to reach the maximum effect we have got to change the actual paradigm of socio-economic development.
A quick look across Siberia: Krasnoyarsk Hydro Power Plant, Yakutian gold, Marriott Hotel Novosibirsk. Pictures: Eurosib, The Siberian Times
Q: Where shall we start?
Alexander Uss: 'Let's clarify the terms first. What is Siberia? The history of Russia's eastern territories, the common problems they face, people's self-identification along with many other circumstances, make me believe that we should look at all of Russia's territory east of the Urals as one macro-region.
'Siberia's division into Eastern and Western, an isolation of the Far East of Russia, makes an evaluation of region's problems harder and stops us coming up with the right decisions. Therefore thinking about Siberia's perspectives, we have got to think of the entire eastern part of Russia.
'What are the possible legal and organisational ways of accelerated development of Siberia? So far there are two ways - either via a dedicated federal institution, like a Siberian development corporation, or through allowing preferences for certain areas with the help of inter-budgetary changes. I'm leaning towards the second option as I believe that you cannot make Siberians happy without them taking an active part in it. And by the way I want to assure you that not all intellectual, thinking people in Russia, and nor all the country's patriots, live in the capital - there are plenty of them east of the Urals.
'I think that the federal authority should see Siberians not as people asking for favours, but people offering a real base for moving the whole country forward.
'Talking of preferences, I don't mean one-time financial infusions for the sake of solving immediate problems. We have got to create a clear development ideology that will bring a precise state policy with a clear set of exact measures'.
Q: What measures do you mean?
Alexander Uss: 'Why not change accents in the taxation system so that a company pays taxes not to the territory where it is registered, but to the area where it actually works? Or why not move part of the federal budget revenue coming from export and mining tax towards regional budgets?
'I want to stress that in no way do we mean an 'eating up' of this money, since an obligatory condition of channeling these money would be linked to the forming of development funds, profitably investing in Siberian regions with an aim of improving their competitiveness and living standards.
'Perhaps it is worth diversifying transport tariffs, lowering it for agriculture businesses and the manufacturers of ready-products. That would help attract processing companies to Siberia. We have got to attract foreign investment in addition to Russian money, offering favourable conditions, the way China successfully does. It would be logical to bet on large international consortia so that some countries are not tempted to see Siberia as their colony'.
A road of the future? The Northen Sea route. Picture: Slava Titov
'This mega-region should become a field of diversified international co-operation, a free economic zone acting as a magnet for investment from all over the world. It is also clear that we should search for new markets for selling Siberian products. It can be China, South Korea, Japan, the USA and Canada. We should look outside the in using Siberia's competitive advantages.
'We have very cheap electricity from the point of view of its own cost; it becomes expensive because of the bulk market tariff adjustments. Perhaps we should move other countries' high power-consuming manufacturing operations to Siberia - or offer our remote territories for a comfortable placement of heavy-duty servers?
'A lot is said about state-private partnership, which is not always an effective route. Sometimes the states formulate the targets, forcing businesses into participation. We need to turn the situation up side down, and make business set clear targets for Siberia's development since it would be able to evaluate the real effectiveness of projects better than the state.
'I think that the role of the state should be in defining a common trend of development and helping entrepreneurs by guaranteeing them support. This kind of partnership has a chance to grow into a worthwhile private-state arrangement. The bottom line is basic: the authorities should stimulate effective business'.
Q: You mentioned a discussion at the Krasnoyarsk Economics Forum. Did it bring any results?
Alexander Uss: 'It did. For example, a recommendation to create a centre of strategic development to work on the planning of Siberia's future. We can place the headquarters of such an important intellectual centre in Krasnoyarsk, in the Siberian Federal University since its work is dedicated not only to preparing highly qualified specialists, but in planning effective ways of Siberia's development. The long-established Tomsk University along with the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science can join the centre of strategic planning.
'Education is a very important subject for us, too. The time has come to think about creating international universities in Siberia and the Far East of Russia with subjects taught in English. Turning Siberia into a powerful educational centre is possible and would take far less finances than building a bridge to Sakhalin or a tunnel under the Bering strait. And it is more important in attracting people'.
The time has come to think about creating international universities in Siberia and the Far East of Russia with subjects taught in English. Picture: Novosibirsk State University
'I am deeply convinced that the program of proposed changes must unite the efforts of Siberian scientists, as well as Moscow and international scientists, and must be created in Siberia. It cannot be drawn up from inside the Garden Ring in Moscow. Let's not forget that the Siberian regions fill half of the federal budget, as well as provide up to 70 percent of foreign exchange earnings, while a pace of investing in Siberia's social sector remain lower than in other regions of Russia.
'This is unfair and it has got to be changed with the whole of Russia benefiting from it since the development of Siberia lies not only within social and economic sectors. It is a geopolitical issue.
'We simply must do all we can to keep people in Siberia, and for that we must set clear priorities, concentrate on them, find solutions to clearly defined tasks and transform Siberia into the major base for the strengthening of the Russian state'.
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