VLADIVOSTOK – Russian President Vladimir Putin opened and closed his quite detailed address to the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok with a resounding message: "The Far East is Russia's strategic priority for the entire 21st century."
And that's exactly the feeling one would have prior to the address, interacting with business executives mingling across the stunning forum grounds at the Far Eastern Federal University (opened only 11 years ago), with the backdrop of the more than four kilometer-long suspension bridge to Russky Island across the Eastern Bosphorus strait.
The development possibilities of what is in effect Russian Asia, and one of the key nodes of Asia-Pacific, are literally mind-boggling. Data from the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and the Arctic – confirmed by several of the most eye-catching panels during the Forum – list a whopping 2,800 investment projects underway, 646 of which are already up and running, complete with the creation of several international Advanced Special Economic Zones (ASEZ) and the expansion of the Free Port of Vladivostok, home to several hundred small and midsize enterprises (SMEs).
All that goes way beyond Russia's "pivot to the East" which was announced by Putin in 2012, two years before the Maidan events in Kiev. For the rest of the planet, not to mention the collective west, it is impossible to understand the Russian Far East magic without being on the spot – starting with Vladivostok, the charming, unofficial capital of the Far East, with its gorgeous hills, striking architecture, verdant islands, sandy bays and of course the terminal of the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway.