Less than two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin touted to an audience of Asian leaders the success of his policies in revitalizing Russia’s Far East. Since that speech, Kremlin-backed candidates have failed to win gubernatorial elections in the two biggest Far Eastern regions, throwing into doubt Putin’s control over the vast, strategically important lands that lie closer to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing than to Moscow.
In the last five years, Putin bragged to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, industrial output in the Russian Far East has increased by almost 22 percent. Thanks to government development programs, he said, 130 new companies have been launched and 16,000 jobs created. He could have added another talking point: In 2017, the Far East, comprising nine of Russia’s 93 constituent regions (95 if one counts the two created by the Crimea annexation), led Russia in private-sector investment, attracting 1.2 trillion rubles ($18.4 billion).