Potted history

As the home of the Soviet Pacific Fleet Vladivostok was a closed city, with a permit process for all non-residents to enter, until 1991. There was a brief break for the 2-day summit of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and US President Gerald Ford in November 1974 to sign arms limitation agreement.

The Maritime Province, as it was known at the time, was ceded to Russian in 1860 by the Treaty of Beijing. Shortly thereafter Russia started work on Vladivostok Fortress, with the main construction being undertaken after the end of the Russo-Japanese War 1905-1910. Building work ended in 1918, when Russia was in the midst of a Civil War between the Bolsheviks and the White Russians and Vladivostok was the stronghold for the Czech Legion, aided by US and Japanese military contingents.

A major impetus for the city was the Trans Siberian Railroad. The Eastern terminus of the epic journey was Vladivostok. Construction officially started on May 31 1891 when the heir to the Russian throne and future Czar Nicholas II laid a stone to start the Ussuri Railway near the City. Ussurisk, which has become Primorsky Krais’s secondy city, developed on the back of railway construction.

The Trans-Siberian Railway was officially completed in 1916 when the last section of track from Irkutsk to Ulan Ude was completed and the use of a ferry transporting the carriages over Lake Baikal was ended.

The greatest post-Soviet impact on the city was the 2012 APEC summit. At a preparatory cost of nearly €40 billion Vladivostok was transformed. Two cable-stay bridges were built. One crossing the city linked the two sides of The Golden Bay and the other, connecting the mainland to Russky Island, the site for the summit.

A splendid campus was built on this island with its legacy mapped out as the future campus of the Federal University of the Far East. The airport was revamped with a new terminus.

The first Soviet leader to visit Vladivostok was Nikita Khrushchev in 1974, who labeled the city “the Russian San Francisco” But Putin’s visit to host the APEC summit in September 2012 far eclipsed that. Chinese President Hu Jintao was the most senior attendee and Putin held a summit meeting with him the day before. The U.S. was represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and leaders from Japan and South Korea and the director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde were also present.

American commentator, Andrew C. Kuchins, the senior fellow and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. commented that “Hosting the APEC meeting, however, has great symbolic significance since Putin has clearly prioritized development of Russia’s Far East and Siberia and Russia’s deeper integration with Asia as what he would like historians to view as his legacy.”

According to Kuchins, “ the extent to which Russia’s “pivot” to Asia will be successful will require many years of bold and visionary policymaking”

Russia did not hang around. By 2015 Putin had decreed the formation of the Eastern Economic Forum as an annual event, attracting hundreds of Businessmen, government officials, foreign dignitaries, researchers, and experts from around the Asia Pacific region. In 2019 participants signed 270 trade and investment agreements totaling over €43billion.

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