Putin: To Develop the Far East Be Bold, Think Strategically and Forget ’Formalistic’ Approaches
6 September 2021
EIRNS—During the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) held in Vladivostok Sept. 2-4, Russian President Vladimir Putin met via videoconference on Sept. 2 with most of his cabinet, governors of the Far Eastern Federal District, members of the State Duma and other government and local officials, to discuss the social and economic development priorities for the Far Eastern Federal District. What was striking about Putin’s comments was his insistence that if goals for creating comfortable living conditions and related services and infrastructure are to be met to encourage increased settlement and population growth in this vast and strategically-vital region, this will require bold and forward-looking thinking, for the long term. Resources for development must be available; bureaucracies and “formalistic” procedures won’t get the job done. As he put it bluntly, “we must refrain from a formalistic approach to resolving the issues of social guarantees and social development of the Far East.” What follows are excerpts from this speech. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66577
“Last year, I signed the Executive Order On Socioeconomic Development Measures for the Far East. It served as a foundation for the National Development Programme for the region that runs until 2035. Its primary aim is to attract people here and to accelerate the improvement of living standards in the Far East. I would like to draw the attention of the Government, heads of regions and municipalities to the fact that all the initiatives included in the program must be carried out in full, which means that they need to be backed by the required financial and administrative resources.
“There is one thing I would like to highlight at this meeting. The history of Far East exploration and development, and major, landmark projects that were carried out here, such as the Trans-Siberian Railway or the Baikal-Amur Railway, and now the construction of the Vostochny Space Launch Centre, and all the major infrastructure facilities in Vladivostok for the APEC Leaders’ Meeting, showed the importance of constantly moving forward….
“We need to be bold when setting goals and aim for delivering on the most daunting tasks based on a long-term planning horizon and strategic, rather than immediate, needs. I will give you several examples. Frankly, at some point, we dragged out the expansion of railway capacity. Clearly, there were many reasons for that and, overall, they appeared to be objective and relied on market-based calculations. Unfortunately, or, maybe, fortunately for our coal miners, these calculations and miscalculations were off the mark. Things have turned out differently, but we have not prepared the infrastructure and cannot take full advantage of the favorable situation on the global coal market. We cannot expand our exports in the way we could have done otherwise. This is undoubtedly a lost opportunity for the companies, the regional budgets and the entire country. These are lost resources that could have been used to support our people and to develop territories….
“This goes to show that we should go an extra mile when building social infrastructure. People who live here, or plan to come here, need not only jobs, but comfortable living conditions as well and they need them now or very soon rather than in the distant future. We need comfortable cities and towns, high-quality healthcare and education, transport, communication services, and the latest-generation telecommunications…If we rely on the dry standards alone rather than the state vision of the strategic importance of the Russian Far East, we will not achieve the kind of rapid social and socioeconomic development we are looking for. I want the Government and the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East to operate based on these considerations. We need to invest today in order to obtain tangible results tomorrow.”
Here, Putin discussed the absolute necessity of developing air transportation from the Russian Far East to European Russia and pointed to problems in the special subsidized ticket program, allowing people to purchase tickets at reduced prices, which this year meant that some eligible people weren’t able to purchase the cheaper tickets. This kind of situation, he said, "is of course, unacceptable. The issue of subsidized air tickets must be kept under constant control, and this is not about something missing somewhere at some point…Listen, we are citizens of the Russian Federation and we all live in the same country. Certainly, we need to ensure connectivity of the territories and free movement between its regions… There is nothing complicated here. There must be a system that will automatically issue support funds to respective regions to cover the measures I am talking about….
“Another important matter is that many communities in the Russian Far East are located in remote areas that are hard to access. Air travel is often the only way people living there can get to the ‘mainland.’ At the same time, small airports, even those that have just a few flights per week, have to comply with the same or almost the same regulations as major air hubs. This includes safety and infrastructure security requirements, the availability of rapid intervention teams and so forth… We need to keep up the efforts to develop a network of small airports and airfields in the Far East. In fact, small aircraft and air medical services played a major role during the coronavirus pandemic, when people needed to be quickly transported to hospitals in major regional medical centres.
“Just like their colleagues across Russia, doctors in Russia’s Far East have been working selflessly and with great dedication. I would like to thank them for this once again. However, the Russian Far East’s healthcare sector still faces many challenges: specialists are in short supply, and primary care needs to be substantially upgraded. This year, we launched programs to overhaul primary care across the country. Today, I would like to hear how these programs are advancing in the regions of the Far East.
“As I have already mentioned at the beginning, the Far East is a special region, and we need to take this into consideration. It would be wrong and unacceptable to rely on one-size-fits-all solutions here. We will never achieve tangible results or produce meaningful changes if we rely on standard approaches. There are many small villages and towns in the Far East that are hundreds of kilometers away from each other, and the current model of funding healthcare is often lax. People cannot always get access to quality medical care, and the equipment at outpatient clinics and first aid stations sometimes leaves much to be desired. I would like to emphasize that a person dealing with a problem, including a disease, does not care about standards or bureaucratic documents, even if they are correctly formulated and well-written. That person needs a medical center or even a small first aid station where he or she can receive real help and which has doctors and equipment.
“Let me repeat once again: in this respect, we need to draft a special approach that would take into account the specific features of sparsely populated areas. I would like to ask the Government to submit their proposals in this regard….Obviously, this issue requires more work, but we must refrain from a formalistic approach to resolving the issues of social guarantees and social development in the Far East. …This applies not only to medicine but also to education and some other areas. For the time being, the Far East objectively lacks the capacity and infrastructure for the rehabilitation of all residents of the region—at least those who need it. However, as I have said, people need assistance and support today. Therefore, I would like to ask you to envisage special solutions for the residents of the Far East in the medical rehabilitation program and for developing the relevant infrastructure.” [crr]