Peter Yu. Samoylenko

Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok

Russian Society of Political Scientists, Moscow

Abstract: The article deals with the problems, connected with the creation  Vladivostok image as today’s free port and international transport and logistics hub. The author considers the influence of historical and political factors’ complex, starting from the favorable circumstances   for the formation of Vladivostok as Russian largest  port in the Far East, which is integrated into the Asia-Pacific region. As well, he analyzes Vladivostok position in view of the modern Russian foreign policy “Pivot to the East” and massive anti-Russian sanctions that have been introduced in 2022 . In general, the author considers the problem of forming Vladivostok’s  information image  in close connection with the issues of territory branding, special economic regimes for advanced development territories and the free port of Vladivostok.

Keywords: Vladivostok, free port, territory branding, free port, “Pivot to the East” policy, Russian Far East, logistics, transport, international business cooperation center, transport and logistics hub, Asia-Pacific region, sanctions, port infrastructure, merchant fleet, cargo transit, export, import

Vladivostok which is situated in the south-east part of the Russian Far East coast  has always historically been the largest Russian city in the Far East and is now closely integrated into the Asia-Pacific region. For more than 160 years, the city was being developed in three main directions – as a large military and naval base, as a major center for domestic and international logistics, and as a fairly large urban agglomeration. At the same time, it is the logistics infrastructure that has always and steadily influenced the development of the city and determined at the Russian level. At the same time, in different periods, the logistics component could be directed both outward, and have mainly an export-import component, and be more focused on the processing of coastal cargo, that is, the internal development of the country’s territory [1].

During its existence, Vladivostok has gone through at least several periods of development, which are associated, among other things, with its image as a major seaport, both Russian and international. From the author’s point of view, several similar chronological periods can be distinguished, during which the image of Vladivostok as a seaport acquired peculiar features  and has been formed as an integral phenomenon.

The first period is associated with the foundation of the city in 1860 and its further development in the time imperial Russia (before 1917). At that time, the foundations for Vladivostok’s development as a maritime city in the main directions were laid – as a naval outpost, as a trading port and a ship repair center, as an international trade center in the “free port” mode.

The second period covers the development of the city after 1917 and until about the 1950s. At that time, the city, as a port, was mainly focused on promoting the spatial development of the Far East and military-strategic issues. In particular, during the Second World War, a considerable  flow of lend-lease cargo passed  through Vladivostok to provide the Russian Army and the national economy.

The third period is connected with the time since 1960s until the beginning of 1990s. Just then the concept of “Greater Vladivostok” appeared, the city has significantly increased in area, as well as its potential in terms of sea transport and transit logistics. However, in those years Vladivostok was a closed city for foreigners and mainly focused on providing the national economy and domestic transit of goods. Foreign economic functions were being implemented through new powerful ports in the region, such as Nakhodka and Vostochny.

The fourth period covers the time from the beginning of 1990s until 2012, when a market economy was being organized and began to grow in Russia [6]. Vladivostok received the status of an “open city” and began to develop within the framework of active trade with the countries of the Asia-Pacific. During this period, the city has been turned into a center of international maritime logistics and now is increasingly involved in export and import international cargo flows [5].

The fifth period began in 2012, when the APEC Summit was held in Vladivostok, and in subsequent years it becomes the platform for annual Eastern Economic Forum [4]. There appeared  unique regimes, such as “economic zones’, “free port of Vladivostok” , the city is positioned as the center of international business cooperation between Russia and Asia-Pacific countries [3]. It is here, on the one hand, that conditions are formed for creation Vladivostok image as an international maritime hub, and on the other hand, there are obvious threats to the implementation of such  ambitious task [11].

In 2022, Western economic sanctions have been imposed against the Russian Federation, which are aimed at slowing down its economic development. In particular, such restrictions also apply to international maritime trade and logistics, for example, such aspects as port calls to “unfriendly” Russian seaports, including Vladivostok.

Similar restrictions have been introduced for ships under the Russian flag, which is much less significant for Russia, in view of the small percentage of the merchant and fishing fleet. At the same time, it is obvious that Vladivostok, as a major port in the Far East and an international logistics hub, has faced a number of challenges, both directly related to its development and the image as a whole.

Modern Russian policy, including the “Pivot to the East” is aimed at the transformation of Vladivostok into a center of international economic cooperation with the countries of the Asia-Pacific, as well as a gradual increase of international economic activity within the agglomeration, under the regimes of advanced development territories ( Russian abbreviation – TOR) and the free port of Vladivostok (Russian abbreviation – SPV) [13]. These regimes, which appeared in the mid-2010s, have not attracted yet massive foreign investments, but of course their existence helps to increase Vladivostok’s reputation as the geographical center of such policy [19].

If you look at the retrospective of Vladivostok’s development described above, you can see fairly obvious trends that have persisted throughout all history of the city and the seaport. These include the following:

– Seaports and related infrastructure, such as ship repair facilities, traditionally were “pivot points of growth” for the city, provided an increase in the number of jobs, construction of housing and social infrastructure, solved other important tasks of territory’s development [18];

– Vladivostok’s perception was always based  on the peculiarities of its marine location, the existence of  maritime trade and fishing economy within the borders of agglomeration, marine education, naval and defensive capabilities;

To date, trends have emerged that objectively influence the formation of Vladivostok image as a center for international economic cooperation in Pacific Asia and a major transit logistics center in the Russian Far East. Among these we can indicate the following ones:

– Development of the commercial marine component, first of all, capacities for processing various cargo range. Marine coastal infrastructure of Vladivostok is gradually transformed: the number of berths for operations with dry cargo volumes is being increased. Since obtaining an open status in 1992, Vladivostok has come a long way to become an international seaport aimed at transshipment of coastal as well as export and import cargoes [15];

– Gradual strengthening of Vladivostok  role as the largest business center in the Russian Far East. Such status provides stable ties with foreign business partners as well as “free port” regime, adopted in 2015;

– Vladivostok is a platform for large-scale international events, primarily business-oriented. A clear example is the Eastern Economic Forum, which takes place in the city every year and is focused precisely on cooperation with the Asia-Pacific countries. It is known that the problems of both logistics in general and marine transport are usually discussed actively at such events;

– Growth in container handling in Vladivostok, which is an indicator for  the development of any seaport and urban agglomeration as a transport and logistics hub, or at least a location with stable cargo flows [16];

 – The activity in Vladivostok of several institutions of maritime orientation. They help to provide marine transport and personnel with personnel and are included in international cooperation processes with foreign universities doing the same work;

– Historically formed and keeping maintained Vladivostok image as a marine city, where sailors and fishermen live, which is closely connected with the maritime topics in a variety of ways – from international trade and shipping to coastal tourism;

– Vladivostok is the terminal point of Trans-Siberian Railway, that is, the “entry-exit” point from Asia through Russian territory to Europe;

– Being for a long time the largest Russian city in the Far East in terms of population, Vladivostok has almost never been considered an industrial center. Historically it has always been the Russian military outpost in the Pacific Ocean or as a major port city. Such image perception automatically sets a “tilt” towards the “transport and logistics” perception, first of all,  in view of the port and marine transport component.

(End of introductory fragment)