Dark horse in the east— Vladivostok


It’s a vital military outpost, dogged by organised crime. However, with huge Chinese, Korean and Japanese markets on its shores, Vladivostok could become Russia’s Far Eastern giant.

China, Japan, Russia

The alliterative name rolls off the tongue with an air of mystery and a sense of the faraway. Vladivostok, rather like Timbuktu, is one of those places that everyone has vaguely heard of but few know much about. If Moscow has its way, however, by the end of 2011 Russia’s Far Eastern hub will be firmly on the radar.

It certainly occupies a strategic location – land borders with North Korea and China are close; Japan is just across the water. Vladivostok literally means “Ruler of the East”, and the city houses the headquarters of Russia’s Pacific…

Russo-Korean cars

As a gesture of support to the region after import duties were raised on foreign cars, a car assembly plant producing Korean SsangYong jeeps was set up in Vladivostok – the first time that cars have been produced east of the Urals in Russia.

The workshop, run by one of Russia’s leading car manufacturers, Sollers, is perched on the waterfront; ships with the containers of car parts from Korea dock just a few metres away and clear customs right on the doorstep. On the other side, a railway line takes the finished cars away.

In addition to the 13,000 Korean cars assembled at the plant in 2010, there was also one Russian UAZ jeep made. The factory bosses say that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bet his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi that he could produce a UAZ jeep in Vladivostok within three months. The jeep was made, and Berlusconi apparently did shell out for his car but, if anything, the success proves that the whole venture so far is rather more symbolic than real.

Demilitarising Vladivostok’s economy

Vladivostok’s numerous shipbuilding and repair factories now mostly stand idle, padlocked shut and decaying. But three brothers – former sailors and logistics professionals – have set up a company building state-of-the-art catamarans in an old naval ship-repair factory.

“Nobody else in Russia uses this sort of technology,” says Vladimir Voloshenko, director of Pacifico Marine, adding that specialists flew in from New Zealand to supervise the manufacture of their biggest yacht yet. The purchase price of the 22-metre, two-bedroom catamaran was under €2m, much cheaper than such a sleek craft would cost in Europe. The brothers, who employ 80 people, also make passenger catamarans for the regional government.

“Currently we’re making two or three boats a year, but we have the capacity for up to 15,” says Voloshenko. “It is going to take time to transform Vladivostok from a military city to a civilian one, but we need more businesses like ours to help the transition.”


0:00:00 0:01:00

Drag me