Russia to sell desolate lands to China?

Vladimir Putin advocates tough measures in the field of migration policy in the country. Meanwhile, officials with the Ministry for Economic Development think of the ways to attract more guest-workers to the country. The officials shared their plans to attract Asian nationals for the development of the agricultural industry of Russia's Far East. The subject is going to be discussed during the APEC forum in September.

Andrei Slepnev, Deputy Minister for the Economic Development, conducted a press conference, in which he described the ministry's plans in developing the agriculture of Far East with the help of investors from East Asia. The ministry is currently working on a whole program of nearly 20 projects that stipulate billions of investments in the regional agriculture. Russian officials are ready to provide plots of land of up to 200,000 hectares to potential Asian investors.

"Taking into consideration the square of those territories, which  may total millions of hectares, it goes about considerable investments, of course. We've already given a number of investment projects to our partners in Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Japan. Only Singapore has evinced interest in them yet, but the ministry is hopeful. The plans will be discussed in detail during the APEC summit in September. We believe that other Asian countries will show interest in our projects. We hope for Malaysia, the two Koreas and Taiwan," Interfax quoted Andrei Slepnev as saying.

This can be possible indeed. A third of the territories that can be good for agriculture remain desolate in East Siberia and in the Far East of Russia . However, those lands could be cultivated to grow soy, maize, fruit and berries - the cultures that enjoy high demand in the countries of the Asian-Pacific Rim. It is worthy of note that many neighbors of Russia's Far East suffer from the shortage of agricultural lands. It happens either for overpopulation reasons like in China, or for reasons of small territories, like in Singapore. For Japan, both of these factors are important.

The Koreans and the Chinese do not wait when the Russian authorities come up with solutions. They already rent land in Russia's border areas. They successfully grow vegetables and other agricultural products there. Nowadays, this practice may become massive. However, it may raise a very sensitive problem, which Mr. Slepnev tried to avoid.

It is already clear that the possible arrival of agricultural business from Asia will lead to another wave of migration. Foreign workers will quickly "conquer" the Russian land, because domestic labor resources will not withstand competition with the Asians.

"The Russian labor force in the Far East of the country is highly marginalized. Those people are presumably alcoholics who do not have high working skills. Moreover, this force is very expensive against the background of the Chinese," Natalia Zubarevich, the director of the regional programs of the Independent Institute of Social Politics told Gazeta.Ru.

The Far East of Russia has been getting non-Russian very quickly. The Russian language is not the main language of communication in several regions of the territory. Andrei Slepnev preferred not to pay much attention to the problem. He also said that the problems would be solved "carefully, taking account of all geopolitical factors."

The process may result in the appearance of technological or ethnic enclaves on Russian territories. Moreover, potential investors may not be interested in following the Russian ecological norms. It will be nearly impossible to protect remote agricultural lands from hawkish exploitation and pollution.

"Such projects raise natural questions. First and foremost, why not giving this opportunity to domestic business? We have many people who would be interested in this work. Many people can not find any jobs in small towns, so this could be a great option for them. It looks like there is a need to run Stolypin-like reforms of agrarian resettlement," analyst Sergei Shandybin told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The answer is simple. The agricultural infrastructure of the region has been destroyed.

"The farms are ruined, there is no money to buy agricultural equipment," Andrei Postnikov, a professor of Timiryazev's Agricultural Academy said.

It just so happens that the country would need tens and hundreds of billion of rubles to conduct Stolypin-like reforms. Russia does not have this money, because the budget of the country targets police and army in the first place.

Sergei Podosenov.

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov