Look at the faces in this Eastern port city - the same European
features as in Moscow or Minsk. Look at the buildings - the same
stolid architecture you find all the way to Poland. There is no
doubt you are in Russia.
But look again,at the cars - every one a Japanese sedan. Or at
the goods in the shop windows - guava juice from the Philippines,
apples from Washington State, and just about everything else from
South Korea. You know you are also on Asia's Pacific Rim.
With streetcars climbing hills that overlook a sweeping bay,
there is even a touch of San Francisco about Vladivostok. And as
the Russian Far East dreams of economic prosperity, it is looking
for its future across the ocean, its back turned to the west.
"Everyone is interested in boosting integration with the
Asia-Pacific region," says Pyotr Baklanov, head of the Geographical
Institute here. "Businessmen and entrepreneurs don't care about the
"People have understood that if they want to survive, it is
unthinkable to do so by trading with western Russia," adds Viktor
Tumanov, a banker who until recently was in charge of Vladivostok's
foreign economic ties.
But concerns among centrally minded Kremlin bureaucrats that
such attitudes, coupled with the Far East's wealth of natural
resources, might ignite separatist passions, have proved unfounded.
It is hard to find anyone here who calls Moscow's rule into
question, and support for close ties with the heartland is nearly
unanimous. If a growing sense of abandonment by Moscow has fed an
eagerness for economic independence, it has not fuelled similar
Considering Vladivostok's position on the map - closer to
Seattle than to Moscow - it is hardly surprising that the port, and
the Primorsky territory it serves, should be seeking to cast it's
lot with the neighboring "tiger" economies of the Pacific, rather
than the distant and uncertain free market that is emerging in
With fabulous fisheries just offshore, endless fields of
valuable timber stretching into the wilderness, and huge, untapped
mineral resources including gold, Russia's Far East has a lot to
And the fact that it is making most of its offers to foreign
trading partners "is a natural process where economic relations are
largely determined by economic expediency," points out Viktor
Larin, director of the Institute of History in Vladivostok.
But this is new. During seven decades of Soviet rule, political
dictates kept the Far East tied tightly to the heartland, curbing
with a wall of state controls any Eastward urges local officials
might have felt.
"Our proximity to Asian countries did not affect us ... because
we had little freedom to develop ties," explains Professor
Baklanov. "The fact is that we are a long, long way from the
industrially developed regions of Russia, and very, very close to
important regions on the Pacific rim. But in the past, these
concrete circumstances did not manifest themselves."
The Soviet authorities sidestepped the "concrete circumstances"
of geographic reality in the only way possible, using massive
subsidies to make rail transport along the famed trans-Siberian
railroad feasible. …