Russians could be offered ‘Siberian mortgage’ to settle in country’s vast snowy east, under new plans pitched by defense minister

Kemerovo Oblast
Russian city-dwellers tired of the hustle and bustle of Moscow and St. Petersburg could be offered loans and a patch of land to build a house out east in the wilds of Siberia, under new proposals designed to populate the region.

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The country’s defense minister, Sergey Shoigu, made the case for incentivizing people to move eastwards as part of an interview with business daily RBC, published on Monday. “We can consider a system of support, offering preferential loans for visitors, providing comfortable housing or land plots on which to put up your own home on a Siberian mortgage,” he said. “The conditions for people living in Siberia should become completely different,” he said.

Shoigu, who was born in Siberia, has previously called for Russia to move its capital from Moscow to the vast eastern expanse, in order to rebalance the country’s economic and political center. Last week, the head of the VEB.RF national state development company, Igor Shuvalov, backed the idea, saying it would be “good to move the capital somewhere” in order to bolster standards of living outside of Moscow.

The defense minister, who has become one of the governing United Russia party’s most prominent campaigners in the lead up to next month’s parliamentary elections, has also called for the creation of “at least three, but preferably five” new cities in Siberia, specializing in areas like science, industry and business.

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Elaborating on the idea on Monday, he said purpose-built settlements could be an antidote to existing urban centers that are struggling to deal with more and more residents. “Modern cities need proper zoning,” he said. “Instead of dirty industrial zones and endless traffic jams, there should be well-planned spaces – both for work and for recreation.”

In addition, Shoigu added that the mineral riches of Russia offer an opportunity to sustainably grow its population. “We have battery-powered drones, cars run on batteries. And what are they made of? Cobalt, nickel, lithium. All this is in abundance in Siberia,” he said. “Why are batteries not actually produced here? Have we lost the ability to set up production in this region?” According to him, “the full extent of the economic potential of central Siberia, where there is the optimal combination of minerals, water, forest, energy, scientific and industrial potential, remains untapped.”

However, while regional development may be high on Shoigu’s list of priorities, recent years have seen the population of towns and cities across the country drain, with young people moving to find work in cities across the European part of Russia. President Vladimir Putin has also rejected the idea of moving the capital, saying during a question and answer session in June that it was unlikely to help the situation.

Moscow has had lengthy spells as Russia’s second city. In 1712, Tsar Peter the Great made the newly constructed city of St. Petersburg the imperial capital in an effort to position its political institutions closer to the other nations of Europe. After the 1917 revolution, it was stripped of the title and Moscow regained its role as the political center of the country. Now, with Russia pursuing closer ties with Asia, including with China, calls for a symbolic shift to the east are likely to continue.