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Priamurie in 2016-m: old problems and new expectations

Rostislav Turovsky on the development of the eastern regions of Russia

Priamurie in 2016-m: old problems and new expectations

Rostislav Turovsky

Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor of HSE, Scientific Editor East Russia
In 2016, the Amur Region remained one of the most troubled regions of the Far East. Its prospects were shaped into new plans and decisions, but the current state of affairs left much to be desired. Obviously, the region's population could not live up to the expectations of implementing new grandiose plans, and its social well-being remained at a low level. The region has not yet felt the effect of new projects, and it is unlikely to happen in the nearest future.

Savings due to the crisis

The majority of socio-economic indicators of the region testify to the persistence of negative trends. In particular, the industry of the Amur region experienced a noticeable decline - by 8,3%. The state of affairs in agriculture, which is of great importance for the region and a large part of its population, was not much better: the decline was 2,2%. Negative dynamics was noted in the construction sector, where the decrease in the volume of construction work reached 4,1%. Thus, the crisis processes did not bypass the Amur Oblast, and its economy proved to be vulnerable. Only a small increase in investments (by 1,8%, for January-September 2016) allows us to say that in the region there are still prospects for development, and this is also evidenced by the gradual launch of large-scale projects that will in the future change the economic profile of the region.

In the meantime, crisis processes adversely affect not only the economic sphere, but also the population of the region. This is evidenced by a strong decline in real incomes of the population, the level of which was only 89,9% compared to the previous year (according to data for January-November 2016). Retail trade turnover shrank by 3,1%. It is not surprising that social tensions characteristic of the Amur Region also influenced the development of the electoral process in the region, which turned out to be one of the most protest in the country. Moreover, the Amur Region was among the Russian leaders in terms of wage arrears, and resonant scandals surrounding the construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome also did not contribute to the growth of social optimism. The problem of non-payment of wages painfully hit not only the builders of the cosmodrome, but also, for example, the workers of the Nikolayevskaya poultry farm, where protests were also noted.

In the Amur region, a complex financial and budgetary situation persisted. As in previous years, the regional authorities had to save a lot, and the federal center did not spoil it with its financial support. So, during the past year, the volume of federal transfers entering the region fell by about 20%, and this process has continued for several years. True, the center gave the Amur region more subsidies for equalizing the budgetary provision (they grew by 10%), which indicates an understanding of the crisis situation in the region and its lagging behind other entities. But at the same time, subsidies continued to be severely curtailed (decrease by 22%), and the amount of subventions decreased by 9,2%. The Center implements a strategically important spaceport project in the region, large federal companies are preparing to build their plants, but for the Amur region as a whole, almost nothing changes. And under the current governor A. Kozlov, the lobbying positions of the Amur Region at the federal level can not be called brilliant.

Under these conditions, the financial independence of the Amur region is formally increasing, and tax and non-tax revenues amounted to 77,1% in its budget in the last year. But it is unlikely that such "independence" is pleasing to the region, which has to cut its expenses and again this is not the first year. Although the budget revenues of the Amur Region grew by 10,8% last year, but this was due to the growth of own revenues, which, of course, became an important positive trend (budget revenues reached 57,8 billion rubles, including 44,6 billion made up their own tax and non-tax Income of the region). As in many other regions, a positive trend was set by the growth of income from income tax (by 22,8%). Also in the region, revenues from excise taxes increased 1.5 times. However, the difficult situation with the population's salaries did not allow increasing income from the income tax, which showed a nominal growth of 3,3%. And in conditions of weakness of local enterprises, this tax remains the most important for the Amur region, giving 27,2% of budget revenues (income tax is 17,2%).

Growth of own incomes of the Amur region became for it only an occasion to balance the budget. Lowering costs, the region even achieved a budget surplus, whereas before it was characterized by a deficit. The region spends a significant part of its expenses on servicing its debt, which, however, does not decrease. Following the results of 2016, the Amur Region took the third place in the Far Eastern Federal District in terms of its state debt (30,6 billion rubles), which, of course, indicates a difficult legacy, and the prospects for an exit from this situation remain illusory. In 2016, the state debt of the Amur region has not changed much - it grew by 0,4% (municipal debt amounting to 1,75 billion rubles, too, remained the same). At the same time, the authorities of the Amur region reduced their dependence on bank loans, but the volume of debt on loans provided by the federal government increased sharply. To provide the region with additional gratuitous assistance, as is clear from the above, the center does not seek.

The authorities of the Amur region continue to cut budget spending, whose volume fell by 3,8%. A small increase (by 3,7%) occurred under the heading "education", while in other cases, as a rule, there was a decline. Noticeably decreased spending on health, and on social policy they remained almost at the same level. Attention is drawn to the reduction in utility costs (by 2,6%), even more - to road maintenance (more than 15%) and agriculture (almost 20%). At the same time, the burden on the budget only increased, for example, in connection with the decision to transfer the social infrastructure of JSCo «Russian Railways» to the balance of municipalities.

Obviously, the policy of economy becomes noticeable for the population of the region. It is not surprising that the Amur Region took the last place in the rating of regions on the execution of the program for the resettlement of citizens from emergency housing (as of October 1). While the federal center did not present claims to the region's administration, but it is known that he closely follows the resettlement from dilapidated and dilapidated housing, and similar problems in neighboring Transbaikalia already cost the posts of Governor K.Ilkovsky. It is also evident that the region lacks sufficient funds for agriculture, where, as we have already noted, there is a decline in production. Therefore, there are reasons for discontent among the federal center, the population, and local business circles. So far, however, this discontent does not take the nature of any public conflicts and high-profile proceedings.

Everything is big, but complicated

In these conditions, the contrast between the current state of affairs in the region and the implementation of large-scale federal projects becomes all the more striking. One of them was the cosmodrome "Vostochny", where the first launches of rockets began last year. This was the reason for the visit to the region by V.Putin, who, among other things, held a meeting on the socio-economic situation in the Amur Region, and, of course, also met with A.Kozlov. However, even the launch of the spaceport was spoiled by problems with the launch of the Soyuz-2.1 launch vehicle, which was postponed for technical reasons. Against this background, the investigation of embezzlement during construction continued, and debts, including salaries, accumulated at enterprises, including Dalspetsstroy. Nevertheless, with all the costs and scandals, the new Russian cosmodrome took place, and now it is necessary to work on the second stage of this project.

Another powerful project implemented in the Amur region will mean large investments for the region and in the future - considerable tax revenues. It is a gas processing and gas chemical complex in the city of Svobodny, which Gazprom and SIBUR are planning to deal with. This project is tied, as is known, to the ongoing construction of the "Siberia Power" gas pipeline, which will take place in the Far East through the territory of Yakutia and the Amur Region - with subsequent access to China. It is possible that the importance of gas processing will only grow in the situation when gas supplies to China may be less than expected (as it is increasingly being said). However, there were no major changes in 2016 in this connection. In addition, there was a plan to build a methanol plant in Skovorodino (Technolizing), but now several such projects have been announced in the Far East, and they still have to choose between them.

It is noteworthy that the decision to create a free TOP was delayed, which could become the leading one in the Far East in terms of investment volumes. The coordination of the interests of the main players has proved to be a difficult process, but we can expect that in 2017 this issue will still be resolved. But began to receive more attention from not only the regional authorities, but also the federal center of the city of Svobodny, which is intended to become the largest growth point in the region. If the TOP is not yet established, then the development strategy of this city is already being prepared. It is expected that the federal center will finance the construction of a social infrastructure for a gas processing plant.

An important project, although more important for the region than for the center, is the project of building an automobile bridge across the Amur, connecting Russia and China. This bridge was spoken about in the middle of the 1990-ies, but the breakthrough happened only last year, when this construction began. It is planned that the bridge will be built in three years. It is important, first of all, for cross-border cooperation and the development of tourism, and for this reason the owners of the operator are the regions - the Amur Region and the neighboring Chinese province of Heilongjiang. As you know, the authorities of the Amur region, with a variety of governors, returned to this idea. And it is Russia that plans to invest substantially more funds in this project - 14 billion rubles, while China will spend the equivalent of 5,2 billion rubles. However, although the bridge is important for cross-border cooperation, it also means an important breakthrough for the development of transport links between Russia and China as a whole. In fact, until now there was not a single bridge between Russia and China, and in the Soviet time the border here was completely "locked up". Therefore, in a few years the Amur Region will for the first time in history have the opportunity of reliable transport communication with the neighboring state, and this will be an important event for the entire country.

Less unequivocal perspective is the development of the electric power complex. As you know, the Amur region has long been seen as a possible major exporter of electricity to China. But there are no clear decisions on this direction yet. The construction of the Nizhne-Bureyskaya HPP, one of the key investment projects of RusHydro in recent years, has been and is almost completed. Previously, it was hoped that HPPs could earn in 2016, but, like many other sites, the work was lagging behind. But the construction of the second stage of Blagoveshchenskaya CHPP, one of several new projects for the construction of thermal power stations in the Far East, also being implemented by RusHydro, was completed. All this allows us to confidently assert the ability of the Amur region to provide itself with electricity and heat, and this is already good. As for completely new electric power projects, there is still no complete clarity, or even negative trends are noted.

In particular, there has never been a partnership with China in the field of hydropower. As it became known, the Chinese China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC) refused to buy 49% of the shares of the Nizhne-Bureyskaya HPP, which, among other things, could also indicate the prospect of exporting electricity to China. In fact, the project of construction of four flood control stations, three of which (Nizhne-Zeya, Selemdzhinskaya, Gilyuska) was planned to be built in the Amur region. RusHydro and CNGC refused to implement the agreement to create a joint venture to solve this problem (in this joint venture RusHydro was to receive 51%, CTGC - 49%). The project cost was estimated at 230 billion rubles. Thus, the arrival of Chinese companies in the hydropower industry of the Amur region at this stage is virtually canceled, and the investment process so far boils down to completion of the Nizhne-Bureyskaya HPP.

The situation around the construction of thermal power stations and related coal mining in the Amur region is controversial. During the year, complicated negotiations were held about the Yerkovtsi TPP, which are being handled by Inter RAO UES and the State Electric Grid Company of China. This ambitious project is not canceled, but, like all Russian-Chinese projects, it is almost impossible to predict the timing of its implementation. At this stage it is planned to introduce a unique TPP in operation up to 2020. It is assumed that its capacity will reach 8 GW, and 30-50 billion kWh will be exported to China. Of electricity per year. Thus, Russia can become a major supplier of electricity to the northern regions of China, including Beijing. However, the malfunctioning of the negotiation process is alarming, given that there is no complete clarity about other key projects for supplying energy resources to China (for example, with regard to the expansion of oil supplies via the pipeline, which is coming from the Amur Oblast on the way from the ESPO to China), and the situation Often changes. As you know, China's demand for energy imports for a number of reasons (a possible reduction in consumption, an orientation toward own production) is unlikely to have a tendency to increase.

There is a new revival around the project of the Ogorodsky coal deposit, which for a while was considered frozen at all. However, Rostekh and China's leading coal company Shenhua signed at least a memorandum, which also envisages the construction of a TPP to export electricity. It is unlikely, however, that two large coal-energy projects, the Yerkovets and Ogozhinsky, can be implemented in parallel, when even one is in question.

Even less likely is the construction of the Amur refinery, interest in which was also demonstrated by Chinese capital (albeit implicitly, but represented in this project). During the year, this project was repeatedly criticized, caused by the uncertainty regarding the loading of this plant by crude oil. It was said that oil producers from the Irkutsk region and Yakutia are ready to supply oil to this plant, but in any case deliveries via the ESPO pipeline are practically impossible, since this pipe is in demand, filled and working for export. Deliveries by rail are possible only on certain sections of the route, since oil fields that are capable of becoming a raw material base for the Amur Refinery are not located close to the railway. In the ESPO, neither Transneft nor the major players of the Russian oil market, such as Rosneft, obviously intend to let this oil go. Noteworthy in this regard was the criticism of the project by the leading industrial design institute VNIPIneft.

On the scrapping of traditions

While the "great projects" are only being prepared, or even having a doubtful character, the Amur region has to rely more on its traditional industries. And from this point of view, the reanimation of the construction of the Pokrovsky Autoclave-Hydrometallurgical Combine, which is conducted with 2011 by the Petropavlovsk Group, is not the last place for regional perspectives. In this very company, during the year, complicated processes occurred related to the possible attraction of new shareholders, which saw both potential investments and political influence. P. Maslovsky and P. Hamro were forced to seek allies, since Petropavlovsk was in a critical financial situation. For some time, the option of merging Petropavlovsk with the company Amur Gold M. Bazhaev (which works mainly in the Khabarovsk Territory) was considered. It was planned that the structures of M.Bazhayev would receive a blocking stake in the combined company. However, meanwhile, another major player - Renova Group V.Vekselberg assembled a blocking stake in Petropavlovsk and could easily block the unfavorable deal. In addition, the growth in the value of Petropavlovsk shares, which gradually began to solve its financial problems, led to the fact that M. Bazhayev's group could no longer receive a blocking stake as a result of the merger. As a result, the association with M. Bazhaev did not take place, and Renova remained a co-owner of the company. Also, the need for a partnership with Krasnoyarsk-based GMD Gold, which was supposed to participate in the autoclave production project, was no longer needed.

Thus, Petropavlovsk as a whole overcame its difficulties, remained under the control of the same owners (with some amendment to the influence of Renova) and confidently proceeded to implement its major projects in the gold mining industry. In 2017, it is planned to start underground gold mining at a large Pioneer mine in the Magdagacha district. At 2018 year, the launch of the Pokrovsky Autoclave-Hydrometallurgical Combine is scheduled. Thus, Petropavlovsk increases the efficiency of its existing enterprises, which is also very good for the economy of the Amur Region.

In addition, there remain plans for the development of the agro-industrial sector, which is very promising in the Amur Region, at least by the standards of the Far East, but which lacks the impetus for rapid growth, despite the creation of specialized TOPs. For example, at the aforementioned meeting with V.Putin’s participation, the issue of implementing the project of the Amursky oil extraction plant, which is being built within the framework of the Belogorsk TDR, was discussed. The government, for its part, approved financial support for the logistics and seed breeding complex in the Oktyabrsky district (Amurakompleks LLC), but it is very small (about 180 million rubles). Significantly more funds - more than 2 billions of rubles from the resources of the Far East Development Fund - receive the construction of a complex for the deep processing of soybeans in the TOP of Belogorsk (Amuragrocenter company).

The unstable social and economic situation in the Amur Region was combined with its chronic management problems. Governor A. Kozlov has not yet managed to create a stable and strong team. In the regional government there are many vacancies, and some officials continue to move to the former governor O. Kozhemyako on Sakhalin. Not surprisingly, in the September elections, the Amur Region was among the least "ordinary" regions of the country. In her respect, a decision was made to not nominate a candidate for United Russia in a single-member district, where the deputy of the State Duma from the LDPR, I. Abramov, one of the most famous regional politicians, with experience in gubernatorial elections and the election of the mayor of Blagoveshchensk, became a favorite. This decision further weakened the support of United Russia, while the LDPR achieved its best result in the country by gaining 29% of votes ("United Russia" received only 37,9% of votes, and the Amur Region was the only subject of the federation that did not have His representative in the faction of the "party of power"). The result of the Communist Party (16,7%) also turned out to be better than the average Russian. Thus, the results of the elections were influenced by the opposition sentiments in the region, aggravated by the current social and economic difficulties, and the tactical decision of the Kremlin and United Russia to transfer the LDPR district. All this together has only confirmed the particular complexity of the socio-political situation in the region, which has always been marked by increased protest.

However, in the regional political situation, United Russia has strengthened its positions. This was facilitated by the refusal of a purely proportional system in the elections of the regional legislative assembly. Due to success in single-member districts, United Russia has increased its representation, won most mandates, and the same K.Dyakonov remained the speaker. Meanwhile, the governor A.Kozlov managed to hold his own creature - A.Koryakova, a native of the company "Amur Coal", where once A.Kozlov worked, as a member of the Federation Council from the legislative power of the region. In addition, the formation of the city government in Blagoveshchensk, connected with the change of the charter and the introduction of the city-manager model: the new chairman of the city duma at the beginning of 2016 was the experienced deputy S. Popov. But the head of the city, according to the new model of local self-government, is now the head of the city administration V. Kalita. In general, intra-elite relations are not characterized now by any expressed conflicts. Rather, we can talk about low administrative efficiency in the region and a noticeable public discontent, which, however, does not create any critical problems for the regional and city authorities.

Thus, the Amur Region remains one of the most difficult regions of the Far East, which, moreover, does not receive sufficient financial assistance from the center. Due to the growth of own incomes and austerity, it managed to correct the financial and budgetary situation a little, but neither economic growth nor improvement of the social situation in the region has been observed. Gradually, large investment projects are being implemented, and new ones are being planned (some of which have, however, a doubtful character). Meanwhile, the region is forced to cope with current problems, but the situation remains controversial in the political and administrative sphere.
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