Monday, March 23, 2020

Hostage of the North

From PRI:
Ivanova's plight clashes with Russian President Vladimir Putin's quest to conquer the warming Arctic. In April, he promised that the Northern Sea Route between Murmansk and Vladivostok would grow to rival the Suez canal as a shipping lane. Seven military bases have been built or reopened along the northern coast since 2013. Last month, the government approved huge tax breaks for oil and gas development in the Arctic, including offshore projects.

But the paradox is that the north is emptying out even as Russia tries to develop it. Vorkuta was built during Joseph Stalin's reign on the backs of starved Gulag prisoners, 200,000 of whom died. After Stalin's death, the Soviet Union lured more willing workers north with doubled wages and early retirement. But since the fall of the communist system that developed the region, 1 million people have left the Arctic zone. Far more have fled Siberia and the far east. Today, northern resources are being dug and drilled by dormitories of fly-in laborers rather than cities of Soviet shock workers. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hyperinflation vaporized Russians' savings overnight, including what workers in places like Vorkuta had put away to retire in the “middle latitudes.” The average apartment in central Russia costs 30 times as much as in Vorkuta.

“Money people saved to buy an apartment turned into only enough to buy a sausage,” said Nadezhda Zamyatina, a geography professor at Moscow State University who has consulted several northern cities on development. (Read more.)

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