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Meeting on developing core communities in the Russian Arctic

December 11, 2023, Arkhangelsk

Vladimir Putin held a videoconference meeting on the development of core communities in the Russian Arctic.

The meeting was attended by Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Northwestern Federal District Alexander Gutsan and Arkhangelsk Region Governor Alexander Tsybulsky. Taking part via videoconference were: Presidential Aide Maxim Oreshkin, Minister of Healthcare Mikhail Murashko, Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev, Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov, Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev, Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov, Minister of Construction, Housing and Utilities Irek Fayzullin, Minister for the Development of the Far East and Arctic Alexei Chekunkov, Director General of State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom Alexei Likhachev, the heads of the republics of Karelia, Komi and Sakha (Yakutia), of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the Murmansk Region, the Nenets Autonomous Area, the Chukotka Autonomous Area and the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.

Today, we will focus on developing the Arctic, primarily, we will discuss the quality of life, the current look and future of our northern cities and communities, both the new ones, built in the 20th century, and cities with centuries-old history. Without a doubt, all of them symbolise the tremendous will and the enormous role, one might even say the audacity, the efforts, and courage of many generations of our ancestors and, of course, people of our time who have been and are still developing the North. Today, millions of people live and work here, start families, raise children, and make huge contributions to the development of our country.

As you are aware, during the Eastern Economic Forum in September, we concluded the review of master plans for the cities and communities in the Russian Far East. In total, we have analysed socioeconomic development programmes for 22 cities and outlined specific steps. Work on these programmes is underway.

The experience we gained from that work should form the basis for creating similar projects for other regions, primarily for Russia’s Arctic which, as I have said many times, holds special, strategic importance for us. I would like to emphasise once again that this is a region with enormous economic capacity. The strengthening of the energy potential of our country, the expansion of logistics capabilities, and ensuring national security and defence are largely associated with this region. For this reason, it is an indisputable priority to ensure the further comprehensive development and improvement of these territories.

I discussed this matter with the Government and instructed it to draw up a list of core cities in the Russian Arctic for which we must draft corresponding programmes and development plans. This list includes 16 localities and metropolitan agglomerations. Today, we must discuss this list in detail.

At the same time, I would like to note that a master plan has already been approved for the Arctic city of Anadyr which is part of the Far Eastern Federal District. To reiterate, the approaches used in drafting this plan and master plans for other cities in the Russian Far East can serve as a good foundation in our future work.

Importantly, the master plan must be based on a workable urban economic development model which should underlie spatial solutions and plans for building the necessary infrastructure and housing.

Major investment projects, such as the centre for building large-capacity marine facilities by NOVATEK, where unique plants for liquefied natural gas production are being assembled, are underway in the Russian Arctic.

Our goal is to lay the groundwork for expanding the service economy in addition to major industrial and energy projects of that kind. We aim to create a foundation for strong small and medium-sized businesses to promote diversified urban economies. This is important to provide people with choices on the job market and ample opportunities for reaching their full potential. This is also important if we want to avoid challenges posed by company towns, where reliance on a single enterprise has led to problems that have not been fully resolved to this day.

Without a doubt, people working in such urban economies should have access to the benefits of city life and modern housing.

Russia’s Arctic zone is almost a third of our country. Nine regions are either fully or partially located there, and about 2.5 million, or a bit more than 2.4 million people live there.

I will repeat that our main goal is to achieve a tangible improvement in the quality of life. Hence, we must enhance the efficiency of regional healthcare, education, transport, and housing and utilities systems and create conditions for further investment, growth in tourism and the creation of qualified jobs. All these measures are key to increasing the population in these Arctic territories.

I will say that work on each of these areas has already started under national projects and several federal and regional programmes. I would like to ask you to consider this and avoid overlapping existing measures with the master plans that are being drafted. On the contrary, it is important to see that they supplement and strengthen each other.

I would like to note that our measures in Arctic cities have already increased the amount of new housing. Last year, this figure grew by 36 percent.

Similar to the Far Eastern mortgage programme, we have offered Arctic mortgage rates as low as two percent annually, which helps people buy housing on better, more attractive terms.

I just spoke to some people, again via videoconference, who were some of the first to use this mechanism. I saw that these are primarily young people, young families, of course. As I understand it, they have different professions. Naturally, everyone wants to use this instrument, the two percent mortgage. They also had some ideas, some proposals, and I will talk about them separately, but I would like to listen to you first.

Now I would like to emphasise that the labour market and the incomes of people are growing due to investors that see good business prospects in the Arctic cities. But, of course, there are still problems, outstanding issues, and not a small number of them.

Large-scale development of many Arctic cities has been done a long time ago, and most of them now need a complete overhaul rather than minor renovations. Residential, social, sports, and cultural facilities, as well as roads and utilities lines must be renovated, and a comfortable urban environment that meets the latest urban planning standards must be created.

Relocating people from dilapidated housing and upgrading the housing and utilities infrastructure are among the key priorities. Arkhangelsk Region Governor Alexander Tsybulsky and I discussed this matter and he told me – unfortunately, it slipped my mind – there were buildings in Arkhangelsk that are practically falling over, but for reasons unknown, have not made it to the list of structurally unsafe housing. Well, the reasons are clear, because until January 1, 2017, all structurally deficient buildings were listed to address the problems. They were not put in this category. The houses are falling over, so I would like Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who is also Minister of Construction, Housing and Utilities, to consider this issue a top priority. Overall, it is important to increase the pace of relocating residents from structurally unsafe residential buildings and providing people with decent housing conditions.

To reiterate, it is important to keep in mind the harsh climate when choosing construction materials and processes for the construction of residential buildings and industrial and public facilities in this region. Higher global temperatures and the thawing of the permafrost should be taken into account early in the process when capital structures are being designed in order to avoid damage to buildings standing on unstable thawing ground.

Certainly, all construction projects must meet strict environmental requirements and ensure the conservation of the unique and diverse Arctic wilderness.

Developing tourism is one of the primary, systemic tasks. Tourism in the Arctic has enormous potential. To tap it, we need to improve the hospitality industry, to come up with exciting tourist routes and services and, as I mentioned earlier, to develop urban and rural communities.

Today, we will discuss other issues involved in forming the Arctic cities and communities’ economic base.

Let us get to work. Our next speaker is Alexei Chekunkov, Minister for the Development of the Far East and Arctic.


Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, thank you for your substantive work, ideas, and constructive proposals. The Government has been instructed to finalise master plans for core Arctic localities by July 1, 2024. Please be mindful of the issues that we discussed and the proposals made by the regional leaders, such as cost per square metre. Why cheat ourselves? If we set a lower figure, we will simply do less, or we will need to look for more money or break discipline. Why do that? Let’s base our plans on objective circumstances or plan according to what we have and can do.

Importantly, the deadline I mentioned – July 1, 2024 – when the master plans must be completed, needs to be met so that the regional authorities and businesses can start working on these goals next year.

We know that much, primarily the living standards and the well-being of our people, depends on whether these goals are fulfilled.

To reiterate, Arctic is a territory of vast economic opportunity. It might seem unnecessary to repeat it, but I will say it again so that we are clear about what constitutes the subject of our discussion today and why we are doing this.

In order for the region to rise to its full potential, it is, without a doubt, necessary to invest more in the social sphere as well. I cannot disagree with Mr Siluanov: the Finance Ministry has it right in this regard. If we provide easy terms to businesses, then, of course, we should also work with our colleagues from private business so they can respond accordingly to what the public authorities are doing, so that particular projects that are good for business are implemented, and people can lead a decent life here. We need to address this together.

I am talking not only about expanding the industrial base and global transport, tourism, and so on, but, as the Finance Minister said, making sure that businesses also react accordingly and help the state implement social projects.

I very much hope that entrepreneurs, our companies, and development institutions will join them not only in investment projects but also in creating the necessary conditions for people to live here, in this challenging land. In this sense, I rely on public-private partnerships and their projects.

The requisite financial tools and mechanisms have been created and are readily available. By the way, I would like our colleagues from the regions to help businesses in this upcoming work, because it is not just us that should expect to get something from them, even as we offer them preferential benefits. As you are aware, they are facing thousands of challenges. We should help them integrate into regional life and help them carry out the projects at hand.

I would like to return to the conversation I had with the people who were the first to receive this preferential 2 percent Arctic mortgage. As I said, they offered some proposals. They touched on what I consider to be important issues.

Here is what I would like to emphasise. I think it would be right and fair to extend this programme to the participants in the special military operation. No doubt, this is our sacred duty. We are sitting here, resolving complicated and important problems, but we are still in a warm and safe place, while they are on the frontline, in dirt, under bullets and shells. We must never forget this. We must always keep them and their family members in the focus of our attention, especially when resolving issues like this.

In addition, I think they were right – and I agree with this as well – to delete the requirement for a service record in the Arctic regions, for medical workers who want to apply for a preferential mortgage rate. I support this initiative and would also like to ask the Government to give this opportunity not only to medical workers but also to the teaching staff. I think this would be appropriate. We will not be able to create the needed environment for people without supporting teachers by lifting employment and service history restrictions.

I certainly agree that it is necessary to summarise information and create a registry of the best regional practices on developing Arctic cities. This is indeed an effective solution on organising the transport system, the social infrastructure, and public spaces in the broadest sense of this word in these Nordic conditions.

In conclusion, I would like to draw the attention of the regional governors whose cities are taking part in drafting master plans, to the need to discuss them with the public at large, to consider as much as possible the opinions of the local people and their proposals on specific measures under these programmes.

I would like to thank all of you once again for your work, for conducting it the way you did. I hope we will be moving to the set goals quickly but at the necessary pace. In practical terms, we will implement them on a broader scale, in part, considering the remarks made by the regional governors.

Thank you very much. All the best to you.

December 11, 2023, Arkhangelsk