In a recent high-level meeting, Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev raised an issue that has increasingly been on Russia’s mind of late: immigration to Russia’s Far East. The Far East is a huge, thinly populated area thousands of miles from the rest of the country, with little direct contact with Moscow or the country’s other power centers. Reuters reports from Medvedev’s talk:
Not many people live there, unfortunately, and the task of protecting our Far Eastern territories from excessive expansion by bordering states remains in place.
Medvedev also said that it was:
important not to allow negative manifestations . . . including the formation of enclaves made up of foreign citizens.
Medvedev’s veiled warning to China speaks to a common fear in Russia that Moscow is slowly losing influence over the independent-minded Russian Far East, as the region integrates with China economically. Now, many believe that immigrants from the 1.3 billion-strong country to the south may be spilling across the Russian border.Although Moscow, as part of its own “pivot toward Asia”, promotes trade between its resource-rich Far East and the Asia-Pacific region, it is at the same time greatly worried about the growing power and influence of China.Some in Moscow are even afraid that Russia may one day become merely a “resource-appendage” of China–effectively a Chinese colony, outnumbered and dependent on its economically advanced neighbor. With this in mind Russia has been taking steps to counteract this tendency and consolidate its far-away region:
Medvedev’s new government, formed in May, included for the first time a Ministry of the Far East to underpin other state programs already in place. One such program has brought 400 families from other former Soviet republics to the area to reinforce its Russian-speaking population.
Although the next century will be dominated more by competition between China and the U.S. in the Pacific, China’s rise is making waves in the frigid regions to its north as well, and the Russia-China relationship will grow in importance. Medvedev’s recent comments suggest that this relationship will not be entirely friendly, and give us a window into how a past Eastern great power views the rise of the next one.