Keeping Russia Russian
Putin’s Chintzy Plan to Keep the Chinese Out of Siberia

Trying to stave off a possible Chinese takeover of parts of Siberia, Moscow is encouraging Russians to move there by offering free land to settlers. The Times has the details:

Russian citizens will receive the deeds to a one-hectare plot of land if they put it to good use during an initial five-year, rent-free period. The idea is to increase the number of Russian inhabitants in the area and prevent any possible encroachment by the nation’s Asian neighbours.

The Far East, bordered by China and North Korea, and relatively close to Japan, was absorbed into the tsarist empire during the mid-19th century. It remains sparsely populated, despite having some large cities, such as the port of Vladivostok.

About 6.2 million people live in the area, which stretches to the Arctic Ocean and incorporates vast reaches of steppe, forest and tundra. By contrast, 109 million people live in the three nearby Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, beyond the Amur river.

Giving away land to encourage frontier settlement is a proven strategy, but is this offer really good enough to entice people to move? When the U.S. wanted to settle the Wild West the deal was a quarter section (160 acres or about 65 hectares) for homesteaders. Russia is giving away miserable little one-hectare plots in frigid Siberia—which, it’s worth recalling, is the place Russia has often sent criminals and persecuted ethnic groups over the centuries.

In general, encouraging more Russians to look East and give them the chance to build better lives is a smart idea, but if Russia is serious about populating Siberia it’s going to have to sweeten the deal.

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