When the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, presented in early August a project to move the country’s capital from Moscow to Siberia, he was not posing a novelty.

He himself had joined the voices that have insisted on that idea several times in the last decade and the recent visits he has made with the president Vladimir Putin to the richest region of the nation have only enlivened the old dream of a new capital to Russia.

From Siberia as a region to host the new capital has been spoken even in Soviet times. The largest nation on the planet – spanning Eastern Europe and North Asia – has changed its capital before, the last time just over a century ago. The idea has almost always been to move the capital from the European to the Asian part of the country.

Among the candidates now resounding to take the post of Moscow are Novosibirsk, in Siberia, and Yekaterinburg, capital of the Urals.

Choosing the frozen wastes of Siberia is part of a program with which Shoigú It seeks to achieve the development of a region that, despite its vast natural resources, has not stopped losing population since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The strategy includes proposals for urbanization and construction of five large industrial and scientific centers in that area.



Born in the Siberian area of ​​Tuva, Shoigú is described by Putin as the “locomotive of the project” that seeks to move the capital. The minister is a very close collaborator of the president and, according to the press, one of his possible successors.

Collapse and centralism

Moscow has already lost this battle in the past. In 1712, Peter the Great stripped it of its capital status after more than 370 years and gave the title to Saint Petersburg.

Dreamed of a Russia more modern and believed that the way was to be closer to Western Europe. In 1918, after the establishment of the Soviet Union, Moscow It was once again the capital and maintains its position to this day.

These days, the Russian capital – the largest city in the country and most populated in Europe – has several points against it that make it difficult to defend itself.

View of the Cathedral Basilica on the Red Square in Moscow.

View of the Cathedral Basilica on the Red Square in Moscow.

Those who oppose that Moscow remain capital defend that Russia is hyper-centralized around this city and they consider that its overpopulation is affecting the interests of the country.

Moscow has become a kind of vacuum cleaner sucking up people, money and prospects from the rest of the country. The transfer of the capital to Siberia is an absolute geopolitical and geoeconomic imperative for Russia,” says Trade Yuri Krupnov, head of the observation council of the NGO Institute of Demography, Migration and Regional Development and one of the promoters of the initiative to move the capital.

Krupnov explains that the “critical unevenness in the distribution of the Russian population is also manifested in the fact that 68.5% of Russians live in the European part of the country.”

He adds that “As a consequence, the most active young people tend to move from the regions to the Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Sochi, where there is a constant overflow of the population”.

Putin with Sergei Shoigu in the remote region of Tuva.

Putin with Sergei Shoigu in the remote region of Tuva.

The defense minister is one of Putin's closest collaborators.

The defense minister is one of Putin’s closest collaborators.

Further from the West

About the advantages of Siberia as capital, Krupnov points out that the move will improve the defensive capacity of Russia. Well, right now the capital is too close to the NATO states in Western Europe. And he adds that the economic epicenter of the world has moved to Northeast Asia, where Russia only has 5% of its population.

In sum, Krupnov mentions three main advantages of moving the capital:

  1. The country’s political center will allow the establishment of a second focus of economic activity in the country, stopping the overflow of the population towards the already overcrowded extreme west.
  2. Russia will have the opportunity to completely reorganize your space, the development model and the composition and quality of the elites.
  3. In addition, the transfer will become a gesture that “will exhibit the capacity for action of Russia as a world power and the new subjectivity of the Eurasian continent”, he adds.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

However, in these years the political class has described the proposal as utopian. The transfer of the capital would mean multimillion-dollar expenses since it would be necessary to mobilize the entire state infrastructure and even the anti-missile shield of Moscow.

In addition, the adverse Siberian or Eastern Russian climate makes moving unattractive.

Although Putin has been cautious about his support for the change of capital, has in recent years allowed some national agencies and the offices of large state-owned companies to move from Moscow. Regarding the project of Shoigú, the president has commissioned the government to prepare the proposals in detail.

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(Photo: AFP)

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