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Russia: After the APEC Summit

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

The 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok has come and gone. What remains is discussion of what APEC means to Russia’s Far East and the country as a whole. Russian bloggers have reacted to the same handful of media reports and commentaries. They focus more on the summit's cost and benefit to Russia than its politics. Bloggers’ biggest issue, however, was President Vladimir Putin's promise to send some APEC volunteers on a cruise to Japan, who went, and who did not.

Commentary online seems to orbit a handful of incendiary items publicized by the mainstream media. NewsRu.com, for instance, published a compilation [ru] of other outlets describing Russia as Asia's raw materials appendage, begging the question: does Russia have anything but national resources to offer China and other Asian economies? NewsRu also retransmitted Kommersant-Vlast's suggestion that Moscow could share the luxurious lifestyle of its ruling class with its guests in Vladivostok.

Official banner from Russia's APEC Center site. Public domain.

The BBC Russian Service concluded [ru] that, because it's dwarfed by Asia's economic powers, Russia is not really serious about reorienting itself toward its depopulated Far East. That hesitation to advance eastward in turn fuels the public's doubts about how effective it was to spend two-thirds of a trillion rubles updating the region's infrastructure for the summit.

In an article for Novaya Gazeta, Yulia Latynina declared [ru] that the Kremlin was determined to impress, even though APEC is neither necessary nor useful to Russia. However, her op-ed hits hardest when it asks:

Вопрос: что подумают бизнесмены и выборные чиновники этих стран, когда они приезжают во Владивосток, и только фейерверки для них обходятся в 7 млн долларов? (А сам бесполезный и пустой саммит, повторю, стоит 18 млрд долларов.) Что они подумают, когда узнают, что власть, которая не может построить шоссе от Москвы до Владивостока для собственных избирателей, выложила 2 млрд долларов, чтобы впечатлить заморских гостей мостом на остров Русский? И что Путин по дороге на саммит возглавил стаю стерхов?

A question: what do the businessmen and elected officials of these countries think when they travel to Vladivostok, and fireworks for them alone cost 7 million dollars? (And the useless and empty summit itself, I repeat, costs 18 billion dollars.) What do they think when they learn that the authorities, which cannot build a highway from Moscow to Vladivostok for their own voters, invested 2 billion dollars to impress its foreign guests with a bridge to Russkiy Island? And that Putin led a flock of white cranes on his way to the summit?

The bridge to Russkiy Island. Vladivostok, Russia. 10 August 2012. Photo by USK Most, CC BY-SA 3.0; Wikimedia Commons.

So are bloggers less critical than news organizations of the money Moscow spent to host APEC?

Some are.

Yevgeniy Druzin, for example, posted great photographs [ru] of what Vladivostok gained from APEC. He writes with not a little sarcasm concerning those who complain about the money Russia spent on the summit:

Информационные фекалии потекли широкой рекой. Непаханное поле для оппозиционеров, критиков, креативщиков всех видов, диванных специалистов и всех остальных. И дорогу смыло, и в аэропорту кондиционер капает и вообще все это зря, украли миллиарды, сплошная показуха и никакой пользы. Логичное продолжение – ничего толком не построили, только распилили бюджет, а надо было раздать деньги народу, купить иностранный банк, акции производителя мобильников, в общем вариантов правильных куча, а диванные специалисты хором решили, что неправильный способ траты денег только один и именно его выбрала воровская власть…

The information feces flowed in a broad river. An unplowed field for the opposition, critics, all types of creative people, armchair specialists, and all the rest. And the road washed away, and the air conditioner drips in the airport and generally it's all in vain, they stole billions, completely for show and of no use. The logical continuation is they didn't build anything properly, just siphoned off some budget money, but they needed to disburse money to people, buy a foreign bank, shares in a mobile phone maker, in general a heap of the right kinds, but armchair specialists decided in unison that there's just one incorrect way of spending money and the thieving authorities picked it precisely…

Druzin concludes that the reality of citizens’ needs is the growth of much-needed infrastructure for the region. But one could respond that infrastructure, while necessary, is not sufficient for development.

Similarly, Putin-supporter and LiveJournal-user Sergey Nikitskiy would like to see Russkiy Island become Russia's Asian investment center [ru]. The counter argument to this notion is: don't financial hubs emerge organically, in a process that naturally marshals the needed infrastructure?

Mail.ru forum participant Tatyana Kormye argues the same point more gently and personally when she notes:

Ни в одной стране саммит не проводился в городе, долгие- долгие годы “забытом” федеральным бюджетом…Не развивался город то; закрыт был, как форпост. Неужели трудно это понять. Надеюсь, любой бы согласился, что человек, проживающий в конкретном городе почти что всю свою жизнь, знает немного более, чем человек издалека, так сказать.

The summit was not conducted in a city in any country “forgotten” by the federal budget for a great many years … A city that was not developed; it was closed, like a fortress. It can be difficult to understand this. I hope someone would agree that a person living in a particular city for almost her entire life knows a little more than a person [looking in] from far away, so to speak.

Others, however, take issue with this characterization. LJ user Dzheyson Born (Jason Bourne?) responds with references to oppositionist blogger Vladislav Naganov's accounting of Russia's APEC costs [ru]. (Naganov also proposed alternative better uses of the money.) Born then asks [ru]:

Уж не очередную ли потёмкинскую деревню с пусканием золотой пыли в глаза иностранцам?

Isn't throwing gold dust in the eyes of foreigners just the latest Potemkin village?

Controversy over sending some young Russian APEC volunteers on a cruise to Japan marred the end of the summit for Moscow.

On September 9, President Putin met [ru] briefly with 2,500 volunteers to thank them for their work. As a reward, he promised to send the 500 “best” on the “Legend of the Seas” cruise liner to Yokohama.

The scandal took off when volunteers who did not get to take the trip went public with their complaint that, along with a few volunteers, local bureaucrats and their relatives filled most of the allotted 500 spots on the ship. Some offended students appealed [ru] to Putin asking only that those in the Primorskiy Kray administration responsible for the situation be identified and issue a public apology.

Putin addresses volunteers in Primorsky Krai, 9 September 2012. Photo by Russian presidential service. Public domain.

The Foreign Ministry subsequently claimed that 460 travelers were students from Moscow and Vladivostok.

The offended in this case do not blame Putin, but rather the venal officialdom over which he presides. In any event, this incident is unlikely to be untangled.

LJ user yuss sees the moral [ru] of the story this way:

Почему всё, к чему прикасается рука жадных на халяву бюрократов начинает смердеть и превращается в собственную противоположность? Ну и представляю уже накат на ВВП по данному поводу со стороны рукопожатной медиаобщественности. Тут тоже Госдеп виноват? Или Березовский?

Самое печальное, что это скорее правило, чем досадное исключение. И к “бочке мёда” -неплохо проведённому АТЭС и его достижениям обязательной добавкой стала “ложка дёгтя”, которую старательно в силу своей непорядочности, жадности и мелочности добавляют винтики властной вертикали -каждый на своём месте.

Why does everything the hand of greedy bureaucrats touches become a handout, and start to stink and turn into its own antithesis? And I'm already imagining the groundswell for VVP [Putin] on the given subject from the side of the glad-handing public media. Is the State Department to blame here too? Or Berezovskiy?

The saddest thing is that this is more the rule than the unfortunate exception. The success and accomplishments of the APEC summit, which was carried out well enough, were inevitably spoiled by the diligent dishonesty, greed, and pettiness of the power vertical's cogs — the fly in the ointment. Indeed, it ended with everything in its place.

Commentator Rara_avis on dirty.ru adds [ru]:

Ура, товарищи! Наше правительство стало более лучше врать, существенно сократились сроки невыполнения обещаний. [...]

Самое поучительно, на мой взгляд, что чиновники подставили своих же, в основной массе волонтеры АТЭС были набраны из числа мологвардейцев и нашистов.

Hurrah, comrades! Our government has begun to lie even better, [and] the period for not fulfilling promises has been cut substantially. [...]

Most instructive, in my view, is the fact that the officials actually shafted their own: the APEC volunteers had been picked mainly from the [pro-Kremlin] Young Guard and NASHI ranks.

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