The Siberian Curse

The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold

Fiona Hill
Clifford G. Gaddy
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Siberian Curse
    Book Description:

    Can Russia ever become a normal, free-market, democratic society? Why have so many reforms failed since the Soviet Union's collapse? In this highly-original work, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy argue that Russia's geography, history, and monumental mistakes perpetrated by Soviet planners have locked it into a dead-end path to economic ruin. Shattering a number of myths that have long persisted in the West and in Russia, The Siberian Curse explains why Russia's greatest assets--its gigantic size and Siberia's natural resources--are now the source of one its greatest weaknesses. For seventy years, driven by ideological zeal and the imperative to colonize and industrialize its vast frontiers, communist planners forced people to live in Siberia. They did this in true totalitarian fashion by using the GULAG prison system and slave labor to build huge factories and million-person cities to support them. Today, tens of millions of people and thousands of large-scale industrial enterprises languish in the cold and distant places communist planners put them--not where market forces or free choice would have placed them. Russian leaders still believe that an industrialized Siberia is the key to Russia's prosperity. As a result, the country is burdened by the ever-increasing costs of subsidizing economic activity in some of the most forbidding places on the planet. Russia pays a steep price for continuing this folly--it wastes the very resources it needs to recover from the ravages of communism. Hill and Gaddy contend that Russia's future prosperity requires that it finally throw off the shackles of its Soviet past, by shrinking Siberia's cities. Only by facilitating the relocation of population to western Russia, closer to Europe and its markets, can Russia achieve sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately for Russia, there is no historical precedent for shrinking cities on the scale that will be required. Downsizing Siberia will be a costly and wrenching process. But there is no alternative. Russia cannot afford to keep the cities communist planners left for it out in the cold.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9618-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Strobe Talbott

    This book takes something everyone knows about Russia—it is very big and a lot of it is very cold—and makes of that commonplace the basis of path-breaking analysis that should be of considerable utility to the people who govern Russia today.

    Rumination on Russian “reform” has become something of a cottage industry in the United States over the last decade. Few books on the subject get much below the surface to look at the hidden forces—the deep structural dynamics—of what is under way in that vast, complex, and immensely important country. This book by Fiona Hill...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. 1 The Great Errors
    (pp. 1-6)

    As observers have looked at reform in Russia over the decade since the collapse of the USSR, they have assumed that if the old system that produced the wrong results in the past is now changed, the new system will produce the right results in the future. Unfortunately, to be able to put a new system in place, countries in transition must not only dismantle the old system and replace it with a new one; they must also rectify the consequences of operating under the old system for a long period of time. In the case of Russia, the time...

  7. 2 Size Matters
    (pp. 7-25)

    Throughout history, Russia’s size has been its most significant attribute. Its physical geography has defeated aggressors, endowed it with substantial natural resources, and made it a major factor in the geopolitical calculations of Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim. But in today’s world size is less an asset than a liability. It makes normal economic and political interaction extremely difficult. The primary issue is not just Russia’s physical expanse, butwherepeople are located within that space.

    Russia has long been a country of daunting proportions. For at least four centuries, Russia—the Russian Empire, the USSR, the Russian Federation...

  8. 3 The Cost of the Cold
    (pp. 26-56)

    Problems of distance are compounded by the spread of Russia’s population and economic activity acrossthermalas well as geographic space. In Europe and northern Asia, unlike most of North America, the isotherms—or lines of constant temperature—run more in a north-south direction than east-west. This means that as Russians moved east from Moscow across the Eurasian landmass, they not only increased their distance from Europe and its markets; they also made Russia colder. Today some 45 million people live and work in and east of the Ural Mountains in regions where average January temperatures range between −15° and...

  9. 4 Geography Is Not Destiny
    (pp. 57-71)

    Russia’s problems of distance and cold are not simply the consequence of its physical geography. Its population distribution is the result of deliberate government policies. Before the Russian Revolution, the tsars encouraged migration to newly annexed territories and built military outposts and towns on the Russian Empire’s frontier lands. In the Soviet period, communist planners moved large numbers of people across the Ural Mountains to settle Siberia and exploit its resources for the state. Territorial conquest, Soviet industrial and urban planning, and forced migration, not nature, have shaped today’s Russian Federation.

    With its harsh climate, huge territory, long distances, and...

  10. 5 Siberia—Plenty of Room for Error
    (pp. 72-100)

    The settlement of Siberia in the twentieth century and the mass movement of people and industry into this vast region by communist central planners lie at the root of Russia’s contemporary problems with the cold and distance. For the Soviets, the exploitation of Siberia’s rich natural resource base and the location of giant factories, mines, power stations, and cities across its territory were the culmination of efforts to transform the old agrarian Russian Empire into a modern industrial state. They viewed the conquest of Siberia—industrializing and urbanizing some of the world’s most inhospitable territory—as one of the USSR’s...

  11. 6 Disconnected Russia
    (pp. 101-117)

    The single most distinguishing feature of Siberia’s development is the prison system, the GULAG. It is the epitome of the “unfree” nature of Russia’s distribution of population. But this lack of choice in location and, thus, of freedom of movement in Russia is not simply a feature of Siberia or of the Soviet Union. It is rather the culmination, or the most extreme form, of coerced population movement and location within Russia dating to the tsarist period and the Russian Empire. It was dictated by the imperative to populate rapidly expanding space, to work the land, and to exploit its...

  12. 7 Taking Stock: How Much Has Changed?
    (pp. 118-139)

    Since the collapse of the USSR, migration, economic development, and technological advancement have not dramatically changed the population profile of the Russian Federation. In spite of targeted programs to move people from some of the most remote and marginal regions in the so-called northern territories, migrants have, for the most part, simply relocated elsewhere in the Urals and Siberia. New means of communication, such as the Internet, have also done little to create new connections or shrink the distance between population centers.

    Many observers of Russia (both in the West and in Russia itself) argue that, in fact, over the...

  13. 8 Can Russia Shrink?
    (pp. 140-168)

    If Russia is to be governable and economically viable, it needs to “shrink” itself—not by divesting territory but by organizing its economy differently. The objective is to reduce distance and create new connections. People will need to migrate westward on a large scale, and the large cities in the coldest and most remote regions will have to downsize. The barriers to self-correction, however, are considerable. So far, mobility and migration to European Russia have been constrained by restrictions on settlement in Moscow; by the absence of significant economic growth, new jobs, and housing in other towns and cities; by...

  14. 9 Russia of the Mind
    (pp. 169-195)

    Beyond the concrete difficulties associated with mobility and migration and the concept of city shrinkage, the most serious obstacle of all to changing Russia’s economic geography is the continued fixation on Siberia as a central element in future development. Today in Russia, there is a political imperative on maintaining and expanding Siberia’s existing assets—the cities, factories, and mines inherited from the GULAG. Programs for Siberian redevelopment and policies designed to bring in migrants and immigrants to stem the decline of its population and labor force have all been put forward. Ultimately, government efforts to repopulate Siberia will create more...

  15. 10 Tearing Down Potemkin Russia
    (pp. 196-214)

    Russia needs to radically rethink its current trajectory of development. Its misallocation of population and resources will not self-correct under the influence of market forces. The political pressures to muddle along, to continue with “more of the same,” and to look for technical fixes to the challenges of the cold and distance are ingrained in the system. But, more important, even if there were no political barriers to self-correction, the distortion of Russia’s economic geography is too great. History is history. We cannot rewind it. And more than seventy years of Soviet rule have completely changed Russia’s economic and political...

  16. APPENDIX A Celsius-Fahrenheit Conversions
    (pp. 215-216)
  17. APPENDIX B Definition of the TPC Concept and Sources of Data
    (pp. 217-220)
  18. APPENDIX C The Russian North
    (pp. 221-223)
  19. APPENDIX D An Outline for Further Research
    (pp. 224-226)
  20. APPENDIX E Cities in the Cold
    (pp. 227-230)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 231-270)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 271-292)
  23. Index
    (pp. 293-303)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 304-304)