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Russia conquers its Far East

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REPORTERS FRANCE 24

Russia's Far Eastern Federal District covers 41 percent of the country's territory but is home to a mere six percent of its population. And the region is losing an average of 17,000 inhabitants a year. In order to stem this rural exodus, but also to exploit this vast territory, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made developing the Far East a priority. FRANCE 24's Elena Volochine reports.

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The Kamchatka Peninsula is located in the far, far east of Russia. Until now, this volcanic landscape was barely touched by tourism. But in the past few years, tour operators have been taking tourists from China, Korea, the Czech Republic and even Brazil on helicopter trips. For €600 per day, they can admire the peninsula’s scenic highlights… and meet some of its wild residents, like the brown bears of Kuril Lake.

Like the rest of the Far Eastern Federal District, this region is part of Vladimir Putin’s grand plan. For the Russian leader, developing the Far East is the number one priority for the 21st century.

The Russian government plans to invest 4.7 billion rubles (over €66 million) by 2022. The money is expected to go on building roads and bridges, plus providing connections to the electricity grid and to thermal water sources. The government has also set up a land distribution programme, offering one free hectare of land in the Far East to any Russian citizen.

As for the annual Eastern Economic Forum, its aim is to attract private investment. Lured by mouth-watering tax exemptions, developers from China and Hong Kong agree to build huge tourist complexes with hotels, retail and leisure centres.

But all this comes at a cost – both financial and environmental. In the Vladivostok region alone, some 4.5 million cubic metres of wood are chopped down each year. The wood is then sold to China at inflated prices for use by Chinese industry, much to the dismay of local industrials, who lose out on this precious raw material.

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