Russia’s Far Eastern pearl Vladivostok
by Olivia Kroth
Russia’s easternmost city, Vladivostok, on the beautiful Golden Horn Bay, is in the focus not only of the Russian Government but also of Asian investors, as the city will become a free port, in 2016. At the beginning of April 2015, President Vladimir Putin held a meeting on developing the Russian Far East. Among other topics, he spoke about the draft law establishing a free port in the Primorye Territory, with specific details like border crossing, visa rules and open skies. From August 12 to 15, the first Eastern Economic Forum will be held in Vladivostok, “showcasing the Far Eastern Federal District’s development opportunities, highlighting the region’s advantages and finding new partners”.
Alexander Galushka, Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East, informed that “about 20 memorandums of mutual understanding and investment memorandums were signed with foreign investors”. Mainly investors from China and Singapore have an eye on the Vladivostok free port zone. Russia’s representative in the China Overseas Development Association (CODA) Mikhail Udovichenko said that “Chinese investors closely watch Russia’s efforts to increase the investment attractiveness of the Far East. China certainly has interest in the implementation of projects in the Far East.” (TASS, 03.04.2015).
Vladivostok is a very old city. It was settled by the Chinese during the Qing Dynasty. The Russians took over in the 19th century and built an elaborate system of fortifications around the place in the 1870s. In 1880, it was granted town status, and in 1883, it received its coat of arms showing a Siberian tiger. The first Russian secondary school opened in 1889. With the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, the city‘s economy witnessed an enormous boost, in 1916. During Soviet times, the city was the main naval base of the Soviet Pacific Fleet and remained closed to foreigners for security reasons.
During recent years, Vladivostok has undergone great changes. The campus of the Far Eastern Federal University was completed and an opera house constructed. In preparation of the APEC Summit, hosted on Russky Island in 2012, resorts, dinner and entertainment facilities were built. The International Airport was renovated and upgraded, but most spectacular of all, the new cable-stayed bridge was constructed which spans across the Eastern Bosporus Strait, connecting the Nazimov Peninsula with Russky Island. The bridge was opened for traffic on the 1st of August 2012.
It is the world’s largest cable-stayed bridge with a length of 3.100 meters and a width of almost 30 meters. The longest span measures 1.100 meters. The construction was tested for severe climate conditions, typical for Russia’s Far East: temperatures from minus 30 to plus 35 degrees, storm wind velocity up to 36 m/s, storm wave height up to 6 meters and ice formation in winter up to 70 centimeters thick. The shape of the span cross-sections was determined based on aerodynamic design. The cable-stayed system assumes all static and dynamic loads. Cable stays have the best possible protection from natural disasters and other adverse impacts.
Responsible for design and technology was SK MOST. The SK MOST Group of companies encompasses 15 bridge construction branches and 7 tunnel subdivisions. Starting its operation in 1991, today the company performs work in construction and reconstruction of rail and car roads, large and small bridges, tunnels, ports and berths, hydraulic structures, runways, residential and office buildings. MOST Construction Company is an associated member of the Intergovernmental Council of Road Builders of the CIS countries and a member of the Association of Bridge Builders of Russia (AMOST Fund).
Commercial fishing and shipping are the main industries of Vladivostok. The city owns the biggest harbour of the Russian Far East. It is ice free all year round. Vladivostok is also the home port of Russia’s Pacific Fleet (Тихоокеанский флот). A touristic hot spot is the Submarine Museum on Korabelnaya Naberezhnaya. This unique museum is installed inside an S-56 Submarine from Soviet times. The Pacific Fleet was a reliable guard of the Soviet Union’s Far Eastern sea borders during the Great Patriotic War (1941 – 1945) and significantly contributed to defeating the fascist invaders.
The city has several monuments devoted to Russian seamen’s heroism and selflessness: the Memorial Submarine S-56 installed on the Korabelnaya Naberezhnaya (Ships’ Quay) is one of them. Together with patrol ship ‘Krasny Vympel’ it constitutes the memorial complex Military Glory of the Pacific Fleet. There you can get a clear image of the heroic crews’ service on the submarines of the Pacific Fleet. The museum is devoted not only to the vessel’s history, but to the development of the Pacific Fleet’s submarine forces.
Memorial ship Krasny Vympel:
Since Vladivostok is a maritime city turned towards the Pacific Ocean, it owns several lighthouses from the 19th and 20th centuries. These towers were built to emit light as navigational aid for incoming ships. They mark dangerous coastlines, shoals, reefs and the safe entry into Vladivostok’s harbour. Nowadays they are still in use but their warning system has mostly been replaced by modern electronic navigational systems. However, they remain picturesque sights around Vladivostok.
Vasily Avchenko has described some of these quaint features in his article “Spectacular lighthouses in Vladivostok” (RUSSIA & INDIA REPORT, 24.09.2014). The oldest lighthouse of the area is Skrypleva Lighthouse on Skrypleva Island alongside Vladivostok. Built in 1876, it is still in service today and “operates in tandem with the Basargina Lighthouse. During the Great Patriotic War, an anti-aircraft battery was located on this small island, operated by women, as men were sent to the frontline. Combined with neighbouring Basargina, the lighthouse on Skrypleva Island forms a sea gate to Vladivostok. Skrypleva lights up in red, while Basargina is lit in green.”
The Basargina Lighthouse was constructed in 1958. It bears the name of Admiral Vladimir Basargin (1838 – 1893). Vasily Avchenko knows that “it is located on the land owned by the Ministry of Defence in the Patroclus Bay. The lighthouse was first constructed as a wooden building, in 1937, and was rebuilt in its current form as a stone structure with an eight metre high tower, in 1958. Recently, the GLONASS system was established here, which improved the safety of navigation, but the traditional fire on top of the tower continues to be in demand. The Basargina Lighthouse is the favourite natural scene of local artists and photographers. It is frequently depicted in calendars and postcards: dark blue sea and grey rocks, on which sea gulls build their nest, and the red and white lighthouse.”
A third interesting tower is Tokarevsky Lighthouse. Vasily Avchenko writes, “Tokarevsky Lighthouse is at the very edge of the Muravyova-Amur Peninsula, on which Vladivostok is located. This place resembles the edge of the world. The lighthouse stands on the end of a long sand bar. It is named after captain Tokarevsky, who worked as minesweeper of Vladivostok at the end of the 19th century. From here, visitors can see Russky Island and the sea route to China. In winter, seals appear on this island. They rest on the ice floes or hunt smelt.”
Vladivostok is certainly worth a visit, in summer as well as in winter. The city changes with the seasons, yet remains always the same: Russia’s beautiful Far Eastern pearl on the Pacific Ocean.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog: