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Russian Port Battles Remoteness

Vladivostok grapples with shortages and strained ties with Moscow in its bid to join prosperous Pacific Rim

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IN comparison to the economically depressed cities of Siberia, this port at the eastern end of the trans-Siberian railroad has the look of prosperity.

People here have grasped market principles quickly, as the old planned economic system falls by the wayside. Japanese cars swarm the streets, and an abundance of sidewalk kiosks offers imported food. Meanwhile, a sign outside one of the several stores undergoing renovation in the city center says, "Coming soon: Magic Burger." Such indicators of market activity are lacking in Siberia, where people are more reluctant to shed the Communist practices of the past.

Amid the economic bustle, however, was a sign that Vladivostok's prosperous facade has a shaky foundation. The eternal flame - a World War II memorial present in every big Russian city - was not burning here because of a lack of fuel.

"The shortage of energy resources is a big problem all over the Maritime Region, and we are trying to do everything to alleviate this problem," says Yekaterina Akhiayeva, press secretary for the regional administration.

As "the Gateway to the Pacific," the Russian Far East has the potential to become one of the nation's most affluent regions. Vladivostok, in particular, is ideally situated geographically for the conduct of foreign trade. In addition to location, the population of the region appears more predisposed to market economics, perhaps because of the proximity to Pacific Rim nations.

But the lack of resources is preventing the Far East from fully realizing its growth potential. With few deposits of fuel, the Far East has always been dependent for its energy supplies on other regions of Russia. During the Communist era, when Moscow directed nearly all aspects of the economy, energy supplies were regular. The introduction of market reforms, however, destroyed old supply links, leaving Far Eastern cities in the cold.

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