Rescaling Russia’s Geography: the Challenges
of Depopulating the Northern Periphery
IT IS WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT the command economy’s geographical legacies
hinder Russia’s attempts to create an eﬃcient post-Soviet market system. Arguably,
given the cost of maintaining them, one of the most problematic bequeathals is the series
of relatively overpopulated settlements along the country’s northern periphery.
Developed to facilitate the extraction of the region’s natural resources, such settlements,
as the ‘transition’ period elongates, are becoming increasingly burdensome for the state
owing to their crumbling infrastructures and growing welfare dependency.
state having to commit increasing levels of capital to support economically ‘non-
productive’ populations, the need to rationalise such settlements becomes ever more
In theory, at least from an economic rationale, Russia needs to ‘shrink’ its
permanent geographical ‘reach’ by installing shift-work modes of production rather
than sustaining permanent populations in these regions. The start of President Putin’s
second term of oﬃce saw considerable discussion, among the political elite, on how to
accomplish this. The emerging academic literature on the subject is, however, more or
less limited to detailing the problems such settlements pose to the state.
To Fll this
lacuna the discussions below critically explore the state’s mechanisms for rationalising
its northern periphery. ±urthermore, this article is among the Frst to consider, through
in-depth qualitative research, the micro-level resistance to these processes and the
subsequent problems this poses for the state.
to such settlements. This is crucial as how individuals contemporarily mediate these
methods is the bedrock of post-Soviet resistance to change. Then, to explore the impact
far north-eastern Magadan
(see map, ±igure 1), is employed as a case study.
Through this settlement detailed examinations of post-Soviet attempts to rationalise
of the World Bank,of federal assisted migration schemes (AMS)aimedat the removal of
welfare dependent individuals from three regions in the Russian north. While only in its
third, and Fnal, pilot stage public response to the AMS has proved relatively
disappointing. The article’s Fnal sections examine why. To do this a question crucial
to the success of such schemes is posed. Why do people wish to remain in climatically
inhospitable, increasingly expensive and marginal settlements?