Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson
#3 - JRL 2008-175 - JRL Home
September 25, 2008
[Medvedev] Opening Address at a Meeting on the Social and Economic Development of the Kamchatka Region

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Today we will continue a series of meetings related to the development of the Far Eastern District and look at issues concerning the socio-economic development of the Kamchatka region. And we are going to do so a bit differently than we have in the previous two days: first, we are going to discuss problems and prospects and then I hope that everyone here will take a recess and look at facilities that fall under their jurisdiction, so that you can actually get acquainted with existing problems.

I think that you are all perfectly aware that the Kamchatka region is a unique place both because of its natural potential, the way it looks, and the volume of problems that have accumulated here. To a certain extent we are proceeding by incremental steps: from Chukotka to the Magadan region and now Kamchatka - both in terms of the population that lives in these regions and the number of problems that have accumulated here over the last few years.

On the one hand, there is a certain amount of economic growth in Kamchatka. In 2007 the per capita gross regional product increased by almost 23 per cent which, in general, is certainly not bad. On the other hand, last year per capita investment in fixed assets (excluding budgetary resources) was more than two times lower than the Russian average.

Unemployment is high. Nearly one out of every four residents of the region lives under the poverty line. And that figure is very alarming. It describes the fate of real people who actually live in poverty. And we need to take extraordinary measures in this regard.

As in other regions of the Far East the demographic problem is extremely important. The population is declining, although there are some positive signs -- the rate of depopulation was substantially reduced -- but nevertheless these issues remain very topical.

There is another component of demographic policy: the high mortality rate. Recently infant mortality has been reduced: it fell by a third which is quite good. There were no recorded deaths of mothers who died in childbirth last year. However, the overall efficiency of the regional health care system remains very low. The transition to modern economic and financial management tools has not begun.

There is a similar situation in housing and communal services. Almost 87 per cent of the enterprises in this field are loss-making. This is very bad, even when compared with the other regions of the Far Eastern Federal District that we already visited and where we held meetings, dear colleagues. Without modern methods of management in the housing sector, without creating conditions to attract investors, nothing will be done in this respect.

As I already said, the rate of depopulation has declined but has not been reversed. The reasons are obvious: low standards of living, inability to realise ones potential, or to find oneself in a given profession, the fact that people see their sojourn here as temporary. Perhaps this last factor of perception is the most dangerous. There is a need for additional funds to pay for housing certificates for citizens who wish to leave parts of the Far North and similar regions. This is also an aspect of the housing problem.

It is time to start finding solutions to the problems that have accumulated. And of course the most important thing and it is precisely because of this that we are meeting is to learn to use the potential of the region more effectively.

Once again I would recall that we already talked about this at the end of 2006 when the Security Council decided to develop a strategy for the socio-economic development of the Far East, the Republic of Buryatia, the Trans-Baikal region and Irkutsk region up to 2025. Technical aspects were approved, funds were provided for the development of this strategy. It has borne no results.

Without clear development guidelines, an understanding of long-term objectives, and mechanisms to achieve these goals, the situation will not change - this is obvious. In fact, if we are going to continue to operate in such a way, we will simply have to increase funding for resettlement programmes. People recall that in the 1990's a few serious errors were made, including when assessing the prospects of the labor potential of the region; senior officials from Moscow came here and allowed themselves to make claims about the excess population. See where it led to. Therefore, we must take steps to create a regional development strategy and, of course, the remote territories of our entire Far East region must benefit from accelerated development.

We must look at different directions at once. In order to characterise the specificities of the Kamchatka Region, I will just make four or five points. The first is that Kamchatka is very rich in a number of natural resources. This is its competitive advantage. But this advantage is as of yet unrealised. Absolutely unrealised.

One key problem is illegal fishing. This has been remarked many times at the very highest levels. Today, the scale of illegal fishing -- poaching -- is reaching astronomical levels. Annual losses amount to nearly half a billion dollars. Moreover, the criteria according to which this estimate was made is, I think, like all such estimates, a conservative estimate.

Equally important in this regard is the violation of environmental protection and border legislation, particularly by foreign ships. The current situation requires a very clear and, in some cases, a very harsh reaction by the authorities.

The second thing. I would note that the region's energy problems can be solved by using more local fuels and renewable energy resources. We are meeting today in an extended format and have been joined by our colleagues who are responsible for energy, natural resources, the development of physical education and sport, and I hope that we will talk about these issues as well. As far as I know, there is a project to build a hydroelectric power plant using geothermal energy. Such projects should significantly reduce the price of electricity, thus giving an additional impetus to the economy, including to promising investment projects in the mining and manufacturing industries. However, given the specificities of the region there might also be other non-standard options worth looking at.

Another priority is the modernisation of the transport system in the Russian Far East. To a large extent, both the development of the territory as well as the level of cooperation between the Kamchatka Region and Asia-Pacific region depends on this.

In addition, I think that a hugely important field of cooperation between these regions and in general is the development of infrastructure for tourism and sport. I have already spoken about the fact that Kamchatka is a place which has unique natural characteristics, and it could become a centre for international tourism, including ecotourism. We just have to realistically evaluate the potential opportunities here. We understand that there are transport problems, especially for tourists. I believe that we must think about the development of recreational opportunities in the region, but of course these opportunities should be evaluated in a judicious way. Simply saying that tomorrow paradise will come to Kamchatka if we develop the regions recreational potential would be dishonest. Let's hope that in a foreseeable future this type of goal can be achieved and the infrastructure for tourism and sport will expand in due course. But now this remains a supplement to other existing opportunities.

We hope that sports facilities will develop and the region will assume its appropriate position among Russian regions, including for winter sports. Ski racing and biathlon are especially popular in Kamchatka for obvious natural and climatic reasons. There are two specialised Olympic reserve schools for children and youth who do downhill skiing. Suffice to say that at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, half of the Russian national downhill skiing team were residents of Kamchatka. This means, of course, that sports practiced here are still done so at a very high level and we just need to give a further impetus to this field; incidentally, this remains true despite the fact that most sports facilities were developed in the late 60s. Today they are conceptually and physically outdated.

It would be useful to consider creating a sports training centre for all winter sports practiced in the Russian Federation and to build the necessary facilities for these sports in the Kamchatka Region.

I am sure that this is not an exhaustive list of existing opportunities. The Kamchatka Region is an absolutely unique place and I am confident that we will be able to provide it with the appropriate development momentum. Especially because we like to say that the Russian Federation begins here.

Dear colleagues, as we agreed I expect reports from you. Based on our experience of the two previous meetings I would draw your attention to a few things. Reports should be clear and describe what has been done and what remains to be done. I am referring to orders which have already been given because, unfortunately, a new meeting usually results in a new set of instructions. As a rule, all that was decided previously is not considered or analysed in the most superficial way. I would ask the head of the Presidential Control Directorate that, when preparing visits in the future, to really study the orders that have previously been issued, and ask all members of the government cabinet who are present to be able to answer questions about previous instructions.

And one more very important thing. Yesterday I talked about the fact that I see the value of such meetings in that they act as a corrective to plans that sometimes arise during cabinet meetings plans that might be absolutely correct that must nevertheless be measured against real possibilities and the real situation in the region. In this sense I believe that our trip to the Far East can help solve these problems.

Today is our last meeting. Of course it will result in new orders. I expect the members of the cabinet, including Igor Ivanovich [Shuvalov, First Deputy Prime Minister] who is responsible for the commission to develop the Far East, to lay out their vision of what we need to work on following our joint activities of the past three days.