Andrew Osborn for The Telegraph, November 16, 2010:
The Kremlin is considering pushing ahead with the biggest geographical redistribution of its population since Josef Stalin’s forced deportations of entire nationalities in the 1940s.
Under the plans, which were leaked to the daily Vedomosti newspaper, the majority of Russia’s 141 million-strong population would be concentrated in just twenty urban centres rather than sparsely spread out over one fifth of the earth’s surface as is now the case.
At the moment, ninety per cent of Russia’s towns are relatively small with a population of 100,000 people or less, many of them in remote locations. The leaked plan said such places had “no future” and were not worth developing.
Instead, it proposed relocating people to twenty giant agglomerations where Russia’s main natural resources such as oil and gas were located.
Unlike in Stalin’s day, when people were forced to move at gunpoint on the often spurious grounds that they were ‘enemies of the people’ or Nazi collaborators, relocating would be optional and encouraged on economic grounds alone.
Much of rural Russia is dying as young people move to towns and cities anyway and entire Soviet-era settlements which were built around just one or two factories are no longer economically viable.
“There is no need to fight against the current and we need to develop big cities and urban centres,” the plan said according to the newspaper.
Saddled by an obsession for central planning, the Soviets decreed that many towns and settlements be built in areas where the climate was too harsh and where the expense of providing basic utilities was unjustifiably expensive.
Analysts said the plan, which would roll back the Soviet idea of urbanising the entire country, is likely to be heavily touted by President Dmitry Medvedev as part of his agenda to modernise Russia.
“Changing the map of the country is a necessary but not simple task which needs to be done very carefully as any overreaction could lead to a fight for urban resources,” a government official was quoted as saying.
With speculation mounting about whether Mr Medvedev or Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, will run for the Russian presidency in 2012, the plan could be a useful electoral tool for Mr Medvedev according to analysts.