Photo: Google Maps
We loved this quote from Dmitry Trenin from the think-tank Carnegie Moscow centre in yesterday’s Reuters article about Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing.“If Peter the Great were alive today he would relocate the capital to Vladivostok not St Petersburg.“
Trenin is referring to Peter the Great’s creation of St Peterburg in the 18th century, and the city’s subsequent time as capital of Russia (it replaced Moscow).
With its baroque and neoclassical buildings, wide boulevards, and network of bridges, the city was a physical embodiment of Peter’s plan to “modernize” Russia.
Of course, at this point in time (after three centuries of Renaissance) modernization essentially meant being more like Europe.
If you look at a map, you can see why Peter chose this site to create his modern Russian capital — St Petersburg is often referred to as the most Western of all Russian cities. It sits close to the border with Finland and sits on the site of a former Swedish village. The location on the Baltic Sea made it Russia’s major port — it quite literally became Russia’s gateway to Europe.
St Peterburg stopped being Russia’s capital in the 20th century, but the city remains an important place. For one thing, it’s the second biggest city in Russia with over 5 million inhabitants. It’s also the birthplace (and power base) of current President Vladimir Putin.
Photo: Google Maps
Contrast that with Vladivostok, 4,000 miles away in Russia’s “far east”.That name roughly translates as “ruler of the East”, and the city is Russia’s major port in Asia. It’s only 300 miles away from the Chinese border and just across the sea from Japan.
However, little Russian power has been held in Vladivostok, and the city contains a little less than 600,000 people.
It’s easy to look at Putin’s visit to China and wonder if that could change. Russia’s relations with Europe are frayed — the EU is hit by crisis and debate about the continents reliance on Russian energy sources remain tense.
On the other hand, China and Russia have settled a centuries-long border dispute, and trade between the countries is booming (its risen at least 40 per cent year on year for the last two years). Internationally, in conflicts like Syria or Iran, the pair have become united in their rejection of US and EU hegemony.
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