* PM wants bureaucracy moves out of city centre
* President yet to say whether he backs plan
* More radical ideas would place capital in Siberia
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, July 13 What do you do when your capital
city gets too polluted, too crowded and overrun by traffic?
Russia has an answer: Move it, or at least part of it.
Moscow authorities are drawing up plans to move a number of
official buildings, including the parliament and some of the
government administration, out of the clogged centre to a
"federal district" that would be built in a southeastern suburb.
Other officials have come up with even more radical ideas,
such as moving the capital to the sparsely populated frozen
wastes of Siberia or Russia's Far East.
President Vladimir Putin has not yet announced his views on
the matter and could yet veto any move. But nothing can be ruled
out in a country that has moved its capital before, the last
time less than a century ago.
"I believe the capital should be located somewhere further
away, in Siberia," Sergei Shoigu said shortly before he took
over in March as governor of the Moscow region that surrounds
the bustling city of 10.5 million.
Academic Sergei Karaganov says Russia should have three
capitals - Moscow as the political, military and diplomatic
centre; St Petersburg in the west as the cultural centre; and
the Pacific port city of Vladivostok as the new economic centre.
Having a capital close to Asia would reflect a global
geopolitical shift in power away from Europe and be in line with
Putin's drive to breath life into parts of Russia that are rich
in natural resources but have small populations.
It would also coincide with his efforts to focus more on
developing trade and political ties with China.
"If Peter the Great lived now, he would undoubtedly build
the capital not in the Baltic region, but by the Pacific Ocean,"
Karaganov wrote in an essay, referring to the tsar who built St
Petersburg as Russia's "window on the West" three centuries ago.
The proposal to move thousands of bureaucrats and their
headquarters to an area outside Moscow that is now a wasteland
came from Dmitry Medvedev before Putin took over from him as
president in May.
Medvedev, who is now prime minister, wants to build the new
administrative headquarters five km (three miles) outside the
main ring road that encircles Moscow. His plan has now be sent
to the Kremlin and its fate lies with the president.
Medvedev has proposed moving government ministries, the
presidential administration, government apparatus, Prosecutor
General's Office, the federal Investigative Committee and the
Audit Chamber outside the centre.
A document cited by Kommersant newspaper said a new complex
of buildings would cover about 1.25 square miles (3.25 square
km), costing 350 billion roubles ($10.67 billion) to build.
The money would not come from the federal budget but from
loans to be covered by selling the buildings freed up in Moscow.
Some experts say the real cost of building the
infrastructure needed for such a move would be much higher, and
fear the size of the contracts involved would make it open to
corruption - a problem so widespread that it is almost a
Putin has not publicly expressed an opinion on the project
but sources close to the Kremlin suggest he has shown little
"The cost, how long it would take, what the results would be
- all this has to be worked out. It's a colossal sum, no one can
calculate it," one source close to the Kremlin said.
The resignation of Alexander Kuzmin as Moscow's chief
architect, announced on Thursday, could further complicate
matters, especially as other experts could follow him. The
reason for his departure was not clear.
CALLS FOR ACTION
The gleaming high-rise office blocs and business centres
that have sprung up since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991
show how far Russia has come since Communist times. They now
share the skyline with the golden domes of churches and the
square monolithic apartment blocs built in the Soviet era.
But many foreigners are put off coming to Moscow by the high
cost of living, snarling traffic, pollution and security
concerns - the main airport and the metro have been hit by
bombings in recent years blamed on Islamist insurgents.
Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has vowed to improve life in the city
and introduced higher fines for traffic offences this month as
part of plans to unclog the centre. Moscow's territory doubled
this month under a redrawing of the map that can be seen as the
start of Medvedev's proposal taking off.
But the people of Moscow doubt his plan will be implemented
and Russian media have estimated the cost would be $30 billion.
"It'll never happen. Not in my lifetime," said Nikolai
Kiselyov, a 35-year-old Moscow resident.
Another, 39-year-old Natalia Kovalyova, shrugged her
shoulders as she did her shopping and said: "We hear of all
sorts of plans and in the end they come to nothing. We want
things to be better but they always turn out the same."
Moscow attracts more investment that any other Russian city
and accounts for about one quarter of the country's $1.9
But a World Bank survey published in June identified Moscow
as the worst of 30 Russian cities to do business in - a bad
advertisement for a city that Putin and Medvedev want to be a
global finance centre by 2020.
Many experts say Moscow is paying the price of poor urban
"It became impossible to live and work in Moscow as a result
of the irresponsible, even criminal municipal building policy of
the last decades," said Alexei Klimenko, a senior architect.
"What's more, people suddenly started buying cars (after the
collapse of the Soviet Union) and there's now an unexpected
number of them ... It's now an utter catastrophe," he told Ekho
If Medvedev's plan is blocked, the more radical ideas of
changing the location of the capital might get more of an
There are precedents. Peter the Great stripped Moscow of its
status as capital after more than 370 years when he gave the
title to St Petersburg in 1712, hoping that being closer to
western Europe would help Russia modernise.
Communist leader Vladimir Lenin decided to move the capital
back to Moscow in March 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Other countries have moved their capital in modern times -
including Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Brazil and Nigeria. Malaysia
moved administrative buildings to the purpose-built city of
Putrajaya although Kuala Lumpur remains the capital.
But one Moscow expert who opposes the plan and declined to
give his name said the battle for construction contracts would
be sure to lead to corruption and the new federal city would not
be a pleasant place to live or work.
"There are other countries where it's been tried and failed
because people hate to live in these sterile places. If it does
happen it will end up being all about corruption," he said.