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The Cost to Russia of Cold and Distance

(Washington, DC--December 8, 2003) Two Russia scholars told a recent RFE/RL audience that the legacy of Soviet planning, which forcibly settled one-third of Russia's population into Siberia, has locked the country into a "dead-end path to economic ruin."

Fiona Hill, a historian who is currently a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Clifford Gaddy, an economist who is also a Senior Fellow at Brookings, are co-authors of a new book, The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold (Brookings Institution Press, 2003), which documents their extensive study of the costs to the Russian economy imposed by the settlement patterns in Russia.

Introducing the basic findings of the study, Hill said that the distances and cold in Russian settlement patterns are an unnecessary "tax on Russia," which should be considered a "dead weight" hindering current and future economic development of the country. Hill said that their study showed that there were "too many small cities" and "too many cities in extreme cold areas" of Russia, and that if there had not been a Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the size and location of cities in Russia would be far different. For example, St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea might have a population of 13 million today (as opposed to 5,850,000), and Moscow may well have topped out at 6.5 million residents (it currently has 15,350,000), while Rostov-on-Don might have 4 million residents (currently -- 1,225,000).

Gaddy said their study advocates a "subsidy program to assist people to move out" of Siberia to western Russia, where people would be closer to European markets for trade and improve the "costs for business." Despite the lingering Soviet ideology of "spreading out the population" across the land mass of Russia, Gaddy said, "some in the Russian government" are starting to think about paying for transferring people out of Siberia rather than subsidizing them to stay. The World Bank is financing a pilot project to "downsize three Russian cities," Gaddy said which will affect several tens of thousands of people.

The co-authors stressed that the moves "must be a voluntary relocation," keeping in mind that the prisoners of the Soviet Gulag were "used to establish industry [in Siberia]." Once released from the prison camps, they said, many people settled in 3,000- to 5,000-person towns close to the camps -- either by choice or because they were condemned to "internal exile."

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