The Russian Far East’s Endless Winter

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Far East was well respected, if not feared, by many observers as a significant actor in regional and potentially global affairs. From its shores, the Soviet military could project its forces deep into the Pacific Ocean and, by the 1980s, as far away as the Indian Ocean. All that changed, however, during the 1990s, when evidence poured forth to indicate that the region was suffering from a profound economic dislocation, an awkward political estrangement from the center, and a general military demobilization.1 Hopeful observers continue to believe that the region’s abundant and varied natural resources might yet lift the Russian Far East into a more prosperous condition and Russia as a whole into a more powerful position in East Asia. But upon close examination, it can be argued that this future will arrive later rather than sooner, and require far more radical departures with the past than the region’s inhabitants or Moscow’s bureaucrats are currently willing to contemplate.

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