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"We are ready to open a new page in relations with Japan"
The Governor of the Sakhalin Oblast Oleg Kozhemyako - on the key projects that are being implemented in the region today
Photo: Tass / VEF Photobank
A landmark event before the start of EEF-2017 was the creation of the eighteenth ASEZ in the Far East. The Kurily ASEZ will make it possible to form an industrial center for deep processing of fish and other aquatic biological resources in the region, and will open the markets of the Asia-Pacific region for the products of Far Eastern enterprises. Therefore, the conversation with the Governor of the Sakhalin Region Oleg Kozhemyako began with a discussion of the prospects for attracting Japanese investors to the implementation of projects in the Kuril Islands.
— Oleg Nikolaevich, this summer, for the first time in history, the Kuril Islands accepted a business mission from Japan. Did your expectations of this visit come true?
- Quite. Indeed, infirst of all, it was a study tour. We expected that representatives of Japanese business and government agencies would see with their own eyes what the Kuril Islands are, assess the prospects for doing business in this territory. And, I believe, much of what we saw pleasantly surprised the mission participants. They were able to make sure that the Kuril Islands today are a dynamically developing territory of Russia. These are not abandoned villages with dusty roads, where people huddle in wooden barracks, drink out of despair and anger. This is a place whose population lives a normal life and looks to the future with confidence. There are roads with good asphalt. Social infrastructure is developing - houses, schools, kindergartens, swimming pools, houses of culture are being built. Modern hotels and sports facilities appear. The programs for the development of the Kuriles are working and are giving real results. Moreover, new jobs are being created not only in the public sector. The islands are successfully implementing projects in the field of fish processing, mariculture, agriculture, wind energy, tourism, household waste disposal. And the Kurils today offer their Japanese partners excellent opportunities to implement their own projects. We are committed to doing whatever is necessary to facilitate their success. Everyone is positive and ready for business cooperation.
— Do you think that the Japanese side has now become clearer what is behind Russia's statement about the readiness for joint economic activity in the Kuriles?
- I think we have not just got off the ground, but have made significant progress in forming a common understanding, because the Russian side put forward a proposal for joint cooperation in the Kuril Islands for a long time. Today, Japanese business representatives realize that the Kuril Islands are available to them. They understand what projects can be implemented there. This was not the case before. Any mention of the Kuril Islands caused negativity, terminated all contacts. The Japanese side simply did not accept any of our proposals, even the most elementary ones. For example, we offered to supply us with diesel generators. This equipment requires maintenance, service repair. Of course, it was easier to buy generators in Japan and get an authorized customer service within an hour. But Japanese businessmen refused to supply. And we had to buy generators through Western intermediaries, through third parties. Now it is gone.
Japan is convinced that Russia is ready for constructive cooperation, ready to consider the most various options for it. Honestly, with an open mind, he creates all the conditions for this. Including territories of advanced development, where any investor - both Russian and Japanese - will feel equally comfortable. Where the state is making every effort to support investment projects.
— Participants of the business mission that visited the Kuriles were interested in some specific projects?
- As far as I know, the Japanese side is now preparing proposals in four areas. These are projects in the field of energy, hotel business, tourism and waste processing. A promising project is also the opening of direct transport links between the Kuriles and Japan. But we did not expect concrete proposals from the first visit. At this stage, it was important that Japanese businessmen understand that the doors to the Kuril Islands have opened for them. So that you can see with your own eyes that there are objects for the application of their forces and means and it's time to move on. After all, it's one thing to get acquainted with the same project of a waste recycling plant on paper, and another thing to see for yourself what will be built, where and how. And the specifics are the task of the next business missions, which will surely still be. Of course, the legal basis for Russian-Japanese cooperation in the Kuril Islands must be determined. This is the subject of numerous consultations that will be held at the level of foreign policy departments.
If we talk about specific projects, here is just one small example: now the Japanese businessman is building a health complex on the territory of Sakhalin, which is included in the TOP. We paved the way to this object, allocated the land for construction, are ready to compensate for all costs for the development of the related infrastructure. For a few years completely free this businessman from paying taxes. These are the advantages of working on the territory of advanced development. Is this not enough? Do you need any additional benefits? If so, let's think together what else is necessary to make the Kuriles as attractive as possible to all investors, including Japanese ones.
— TOP status today attracts investors from many foreign countries to the Kurils. As far as I know, in Japan they are not enthusiastic about the news that work on this territory is interesting, for example, to Korean businessmen ...
- The Kuril Islands cannot wait until some specific investors are interested in them. They must and will develop. TOP "Kuriles", in fact, was created in order to accelerate this development, to make the islands equally attractive for investors from any country.
— Perhaps our eastern neighbors believed that only Russia and Japan could participate in joint economic activities in the Kurils?
- If so, then this is a mistake. According to all world canons, no one can forbid an investor to come to the territory in which he is interested. If the Kuriles are not interested in Japanese business, there will be others who want to work here and earn money. But this does not mean that we are not interested in cooperation with Japan. We are waiting for Japanese investors and are happy to cooperate with them.Moreover, when implementing projects in the Kuril Islands, Japan has strategic advantages over other countries. And above all, this is the geographical location. Territorial proximity opens up tremendous opportunities. As soon as the issues of visa-free exchange are resolved, we will ensure the transport accessibility of the Kuril Islands, organize air and sea communication with Japan. We are ready for partnership, we are positively disposed and expect that it is Japanese investors who will come to the Kuril Islands before others. I would like to emphasize once again that today everyone - people, companies, and the government - are positively disposed towards contact with Japanese business. We are ready to open and write a new page together in our good-neighborly relations.
— And how does cooperation with other countries of the Asia-Pacific region develop today? At the last St. Petersburg forum, you were part of the delegation that negotiated cooperation with India ...
- Our business mission visited this country, economic cooperation is developing. In particular, we expect that in 2018 the volumes of Russian coal supplies to India will double. As a consumer of our energy resources, Indian business is actively investing not only in the coal, but also in the oil and gas industry. Joint projects in the field of tourism and cultural exchange are also being implemented.
— TOP "Kuriles" was created recently, and now it is in the center of attention. And what is happening in the Mountain Air ASEZ now? Do you manage to follow the scenario of its development?
- Everything is going as planned. The implementation of the key project of the ski base "Mountain Air", where athletes will be able to prepare for the Olympics in Korea, continues. Now we have started the construction of another lift road, which will provide us with an additional 8 km of ski slopes. By the end of the year, we will have a new cable car with a length of about 2 km. The construction of a biathlon complex for cross-country skiing is nearing completion. Ice rinks of closed ice and ski slopes have already been prepared. Athletes will have everything they need to prepare for all winter sports. With the participation of Japanese and South Korean investors, we are implementing other projects here, in the hotel and tourism sectors.
- As for another project - construction of the transition from Sakhalin to the mainland. Is it already possible to talk about some specifics?
- It is important and necessary to build such a transition, to make the country united from Crimea to Sakhalin, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has already said. But it is necessary to discuss the mechanisms for implementing this idea not at the regional level, but at the federal one. After all, we are talking about investing huge budget funds. Investments will require not only the construction of the crossing itself, but also the laying of new railways and the reconstruction of existing ones - BAM, Transsib.
For our part, we are fully in favor of this project. After all, if the passage is built, we will get five more non-freezing ports. If there is not a ferry, but a reliable rail link with the mainland, we will be able, for example, to send fish products produced by Sakhalin producers for export through these ports. New, unloaded ports in Primorye provide new opportunities for the development of the Far Eastern regions.
— And what is happening now with the allocation of the "Far Eastern hectare"? How many people have already been able to get it on the territory of the Sakhalin Region?
- The work has begun. Thanks to the "Far Eastern hectare", even two new settlements will appear in the region - the village of Podorozhnoe and the village of Uspeshny. Each of them has already provided over 100 sites. Now we are engaged in the creation of the necessary infrastructure - we are developing design and estimate documentation for the laying of electrical, heating and engineering networks, the construction of roads. When residents begin to build cottages and residential buildings in new settlements, we will be able to understand how many schools and kindergartens need to be built.
— Returning to the Kurils - Are there many people willing to get their “Far Eastern hectare” on these islands?
- The Kurils are in great demand, and above all among local residents. Most of those wishing to receive land plots for the development of the hotel business. But there is also great interest in individual housing construction. Especially considering that we have developed support measures - compensation for the transportation of materials for individual housing construction, the ability to get a zero rate on mortgage loans. Together with investments in infrastructure development, this is fueling demand. True, so far the process of allocating plots is somewhat hampered by the need for coordination with the Ministry of Defense, but this is an issue that can be solved. Already now there is an opportunity to get a “Far Eastern hectare” in the immediate vicinity of settlements. And this is just the beginning.
— Macroeconomics is improving, but are the lives of Sakhalin residents changing for the better?
- Creation of comfortable conditions for Sakhalin and Kuril residents is one of our main tasks. To solve it, many projects are also being implemented, they just are not so large-scale and do not attract so much attention. Indeed, in the social sphere, first of all, simple, but important and necessary issues need to be solved. This is the improvement of our yards, the relocation of people from dilapidated and dilapidated housing, the construction of schools, hospitals, sports facilities .... In general, everything - from road repairs to leisure activities. People need a region where they can live normally, despite its remoteness from the rest of the country. They should be able to take the kids to the water park on weekends, or take them for an evening stroll through the picturesque amusement park. Therefore, the creation of a comfortable environment, the implementation of projects aimed at improving the quality of life is our main, daily work.