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  Siberia: a colony of 21st century?

Auđra Radzevičiűtë
2007 07 26

Siberia with its natural resources is a very rich Russian territory. It gives everything and gets practically nothing from Moscow. Moscow elaborates plans and strategies on how to develop this region, considers huge investment from budget, however, the problems in Siberia grow, the population catastrophically decreases and opens the doors for illegal immigration of citizens of China. The major paradox of Siberia: the territory so rich with nearly all minerals, huge gas and oil fields, experiences catastrophic shortage of electric power.

In a broad sense Siberia is the entire Asian part of Russia extending from the Urals to the Pacific Ocean, although from the point of view of administration this territory does not include the Far East. The Siberian Federal District consists of 14 subjects of the Russian Federation, its area – 5,1 square km, population – about 20 million.

Siberia concentrates 85% of the Russian lead and platinum resources, 80% of coal and molybdenum, 71% of nickel, 69% of copper, 44% of silver, 40% of gold and all jewel resources. Let alone oil, gas and about 3,5 million square meters of forest.

Absorption of the Siberian natural resources is possible only subject to the efficient transport system, however, so far it has not been adequately developed.  According to experts, it should either be newly established or completely modernized.  Several meridian highways should be constructed, whereas railway and, probably, river transport by Lena, Irtysh and Yenisei rivers, should become a supporting network.

The concept of re-orientation of Siberia has been elaborated in 2000. It deals with the transition from the stock based to the higher technologies based structure of economy.  According to the above document, this could be computer software production, production of lasers, electronics, techno parks etc., however, without the support of the state these plans have not been implemented.

The recent Economy Forum held in St.Petersburg considered the Project for development of the Western Siberia anticipating construction of a new transport corridor and development of energy and infrastructure.  All the above should contribute to the efficient absorption of mineral resources of the Region. The federal center is ready to allocate more than 100 billion rubles; local authorities and private investors should also contribute to implementation of the Project.

However, oil resources in the Western Siberia have nearly expired and incentives are made to turn back to the Eastern Siberia. It has about 110 billion barrels of oil, the value of which in the market would be about 6 trillion US dollars. Huge investment are needed, however authorities and local businesses do not hurry, and the doors for foreigners are practically shut. The United States have been criticizing the Kremlin for „vacuum of force“ behind the Urals, and is ready to suggest its plan on how to „set Siberia on its legs“. However, the Chinese have started economic and demographic expansion to the southern Siberia without any invitation.

Why is Russia gradually loosing Siberia? – asked one of the authors of the news agency APN. How could the Siberians, possessors of huge mineral resources, have occurred in the zone of permanent disaster at the beginning of 21st century? According to him, the first reason is poverty. This is predetermined by several reasons:  territorial exclusion, inadequate financing of the social sphere, and the fall of manufacture and infrastructure which has taken place during the recent 15 years. Let alone enormous re-pumping of income and resources to the center of Russia and adverse climate conditions. Although this territory guarantees more than 10% of the country‘s export annually, 80% of monetary funds, related to Siberia, „sink“ in Moscow.

Situation in Siberia indicates two clear tendencies: mass emigration and moods of separatism. However, hardly the separation would rescue Siberia. In any case, one of the key problems of Siberia is lack of population, since demographic situation there is simply catastrophic. However, in case if mass immigration of labor force from China and Central Asia is permitted, after some time Siberia would cease being the Russian territory, and this is not acceptable for the authorities of the Russian Federation.

For many years Russia has been tearing between its twofold  - European and Asian – origin. Philosopher G.Antipov recalls the famous words of M.Lomonosov that Siberia would glorify the power of Russia; however he also reminds that Siberia is the place of deportation and servitude. Thus Siberia in the national consciousness of the Russians is a huge repository of resources and the place where persons departing from laws are deported.

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