The Unraveling of Russia’s Far Eastern Power

In the early hours of September 1, 1983, a Soviet Su-15 fighter intercepted and shot down a Korean Airlines Boeing 747 after it had flown over the Kamchatka Peninsula. All 269 passengers and crew perished. While the United States condemned the act as evident villainy and the Soviet Union upheld the act as frontier defense, the act itself underscored the military strength Moscow had assembled in its Far Eastern provinces. Even on the remote fringes of its empire, strong and responsive military forces stood ready. As has been the case for much of the twentieth century, East Asia respected the Soviet Union and Russia largely because of their military might-with the economics and politics of the Russian Far East @FE) playing important but secondary roles. Hence, the precipitous decline in Russia’s Far Eastern forces during the 1990s dealt a serious blow to the country’s power and influence in East Asia. At the same time, the regional economy’s ability to support its military infrastructure dwindled. The strikes, blockades, and general lawlessness that have coursed through the RFE caused its foreign and domestic trade to plummet. Even natural resource extraction, still thought to be the region’s potential savior, fell victim to bureaucratic, financial, and political obstacles. Worse still, food, heat, and electricity have become scarce. In the midst of this economic winter, the soldiers and sailors of Russia’s once-formidable Far East contingent now languish in their barracks and ports, members of a frozen force.

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