August 19, 2022

Persian News

All Persian News Related to Iran

'This will be my own little country, and I will be its Putin'

across an expanse of pristine snow studded with birch trees 3,500 miles east of Moscow, he rejoices at the prospect of finally finding some satisfaction. “Here I can be my own dictator,” Lunin says, outlining his plans to turn the land, granted to him for free by the Russian state, into a sanctuary from, well, the Russian state.

When President Vladimir Putin began a programme four years ago to hand out plots of land in remote areas of the Russian far east, the idea was to lure young, hardy settlers to the vast and sparsely populated region in a Slavic replay of the 1862 Homestead Act’s promise of 160 acres in the United States.

Instead, at least in this patch of territory near the Chinese border, the Kremlin’s programme got Lunin, a self-declared anarchist – though, he insists, “not an idiot who supports violence” – and lifelong gadfly. Before signing up as a pioneer to develop his plot of empty land, he edited a now-defunct newspaper, Dissident; spent time in a Soviet jail accused of “parasitism”; and did freelance work as a political consultant specialising in making mischief.

Download the new Independent Premium app

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

That someone like Lunin wanted to join the Kremlin’s settler programme – and has been accepted into it – is a measure of how, in more far-flung corners of Russia, the rigid political barriers that define the with-us-or-against-us politics in Moscow and other cities in the west of the country can quickly dissolve.

Like the American west, the Russian far east has always been a land apart. This is true not only because of its distance from the capital but also because of its self-image as a haven of relative freedom, a place of exile and a magnet for all manner of dissenters, idealists and oddballs.

Playwright Anton Chekhov, writing to his family while travelling in 1890 to the region then only recently fully incorporated into the Russian empire, marvelled at how different the territory was from his home far to the west. “Here people are not afraid to talk loudly,” he wrote. “There is nobody to arrest them here and nowhere to exile them to. You can be as liberal as you like.”

Today, there are plenty of people on hand to make arrests. The one-room apartment in the regional capital of Blagoveshchensk, which Lunin shares with his wife, four cats, three dogs, two mice and a rabbit, sits across the road from a compound of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the post-Soviet incarnation of the KGB.

A big billboard on a nearby highway advertises careers in the border service, a branch of the FSB, offering work along the frontier with China. “The Border – A Territory for Real Men,” promises the FSB’s recruitment pitch. The Russian far east, with its vast open vistas and stunning natural beauty, is still a world away from the cramped spaces and often crimped minds of the west. And it often tolerates and even nurtures ruggedly contrarian, freethinking spirits.

Encouraging such spirits was not Putin’s goal when the Kremlin embarked on its Far Eastern Hectare programme, which offers each taker 2.5 acres. The effort is aimed primarily at rescuing the area from decades of declining population and economic malaise The far east accounts for 41 per cent of Russia’s total territory but has just 6.2 million inhabitants, less than 5 per cent of the country’s population.

5%

of the country’s inhabitants reside in Russia’s Far East

More than 78,000 Russians have so far taken up the offer of free land. But many of these are not homesteaders from outside the far east; instead, they are locals, including many officials, who simply want to build a vacation home. Kremlin critics mock the programme as a misguided failure, but Lunin, though “initially very sceptical” and still upset by rules that make it easy for officials to take back the land they grant, has come around to embracing it — despite his lifelong wariness of everything connected to officialdom.

No hype, just the advice and analysis you need

Lunin developed his deep loathing of authority from his childhood, spent on Soviet military bases in Chukotka, the Russian Arctic region next to Alaska, and in Kazakhstan, Latvia, Cuba, East Germany and other outposts of empire, where his stepfather was an army officer. Lunin particularly dislikes a military and security apparatus that he sees as menacingly resurgent under Putin.

ShapeCreated with Sketch.Vladimir Putin: A decade of photo-ops for Russia’s man of steel

Show all 20
leftCreated with Sketch.rightCreated with Sketch.

1/20

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes part in a judo training session at a sports complex in St Petersburg on 22 December 2010
AFP/Getty

2/20

Putin holds a tommy gun during a visit to Izhevsk Mechanical Works, a weapons manufacturer in May 2010
AFP/Getty

3/20

Putin plays with his dogs Buffy (L) and Yume at his residence in Novo-Ogariovo in March 2013
AFP/Getty

4/20

Putin wears a helmet and the uniform of the Renault Formula One team before driving a F1 race car on a special track in Leningrad region outside St. Petersburg on in November 2010
Getty

5/20

Putin sports a pair of goggles during a visit to the Technology Park of the Novosibirsk Academic Town in February 2012
Getty

6/20

Putin holds a huge pike fish, after he caught it in the Tyva on 26 July 2013
AFP/Getty

7/20

Putin inspects a horse in the Karatash area, near the town of Abakan in March 2010
AFP/Getty

8/20

Putin looks down the sight of a replica kalashnikov rifle at a target range in Moscow in April 2012
AFP/Getty

9/20

Putin works out at a gym at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on 30 August 2015
Getty

10/20

Putin drives down a highway in St Petersburg in August 2013
AFP/Getty

11/20

Putin takes part in a judo training session at the Moscow sports complex in St Petersburg, on 22 December 2010.
Getty

12/20

Putin speaks with Leonardo DiCaprio on 23 November 2010 after a concert to mark the International Tiger Conservation Forum in St Petersburg
AFP/Getty

13/20

Putin holds two ancient amphorae he found while scuba diving in Taman Bay as he visits an underwater archaeological site at Phanagoria on 10 August 2011
AFP/Getty

14/20

Putin caresses a Persian leopard cub as he visits the Persian leopard breeding and rehabilitation centre in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on 4 February 2014
AFP/Getty

15/20

Putin rides a train in Moscow on 21 November 2019
Sputnik/AFP/Getty

16/20

Putin hunts fish in southern Siberia in August 2017
Getty

17/20

Russian President Vladimir Putin plunges into the icy waters of lake Seliger during the celebration of the Epiphany holiday in Russia’s Tver region in January 2018
AFP/Getty

18/20

Putin measures a dead polar bear on the island Alexandra Land, part of the Franz Josef Land archipalego in the Arctic Ocean in April 2010
Getty

19/20

Putin sits inside a T-90AM tank during a visit to an arms exhibition in the Urals town of Nizhny Tagil in September 2011
Getty

20/20

Putin holds a Bulgarian sheperd dog given to him by his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov after their press conference in Sofia on 13 November 2010
AFP/Getty

1/20

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes part in a judo training session at a sports complex in St Petersburg on 22 December 2010
AFP/Getty

2/20

Putin holds a tommy gun during a visit to Izhevsk Mechanical Works, a weapons manufacturer in May 2010
AFP/Getty

3/20

Putin plays with his dogs Buffy (L) and Yume at his residence in Novo-Ogariovo in March 2013
AFP/Getty

4/20

Putin wears a helmet and the uniform of the Renault Formula One team before driving a F1 race car on a special track in Leningrad region outside St. Petersburg on in November 2010
Getty

5/20

Putin sports a pair of goggles during a visit to the Technology Park of the Novosibirsk Academic Town in February 2012
Getty

6/20

Putin holds a huge pike fish, after he caught it in the Tyva on 26 July 2013
AFP/Getty

7/20

Putin inspects a horse in the Karatash area, near the town of Abakan in March 2010
AFP/Getty

8/20

Putin looks down the sight of a replica kalashnikov rifle at a target range in Moscow in April 2012
AFP/Getty

9/20

Putin works out at a gym at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on 30 August 2015
Getty

10/20

Putin drives down a highway in St Petersburg in August 2013
AFP/Getty

11/20

Putin takes part in a judo training session at the Moscow sports complex in St Petersburg, on 22 December 2010.
Getty

12/20

Putin speaks with Leonardo DiCaprio on 23 November 2010 after a concert to mark the International Tiger Conservation Forum in St Petersburg
AFP/Getty

13/20

Putin holds two ancient amphorae he found while scuba diving in Taman Bay as he visits an underwater archaeological site at Phanagoria on 10 August 2011
AFP/Getty

14/20

Putin caresses a Persian leopard cub as he visits the Persian leopard breeding and rehabilitation centre in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on 4 February 2014
AFP/Getty

15/20

Putin rides a train in Moscow on 21 November 2019
Sputnik/AFP/Getty

16/20

Putin hunts fish in southern Siberia in August 2017
Getty

17/20

Russian President Vladimir Putin plunges into the icy waters of lake Seliger during the celebration of the Epiphany holiday in Russia’s Tver region in January 2018
AFP/Getty

18/20

Putin measures a dead polar bear on the island Alexandra Land, part of the Franz Josef Land archipalego in the Arctic Ocean in April 2010
Getty

19/20

Putin sits inside a T-90AM tank during a visit to an arms exhibition in the Urals town of Nizhny Tagil in September 2011
Getty

20/20

Putin holds a Bulgarian sheperd dog given to him by his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov after their press conference in Sofia on 13 November 2010
AFP/Getty

But Russia, for all its repression, is so huge, diverse and often dysfunctional that there is still plenty of space for divergent views and live-and-let-live accommodations. Lunin has never voted for Putin and rejects everything he stands for, but he also sees him as “the pure pressed juice” of the ideas and attitudes held by the vast majority of Russians. “He not only represents the people but is the clearest expression of the people,” he says. “Look around – all these people will vote for Putin.”

A recent move by the Kremlin to rewrite the rules so that Putin can crash through constitutional term limits and stay in power through 2036 has only confirmed Lunin’s distaste for what he called “Russia’s repulsive reality”. But Lunin does not have any faith in Russia’s Moscow-based opposition, either, which he says “is just another part of the same system”.

Russia, Blagoveshchensk, July 2019: View of the Amur river in the summer, on both banks of the city of Blagoveshchensk and the city of Heihe

It is this bleak picture that made him want to strike out with his wife, his third, on a patch of undeveloped land surrounded by swamps, frozen in winter and swarming with bugs in summer. There are no neighbours for miles other than a nunnery run by the Russian Orthodox Church But his 7.4-acre property, which includes plots received by his wife, Alyona Lunin, and mother-in-law, has a road nearby and possible access to electricity, unlike most of the land on offer.

“This will be my own little country, and I will be its Putin,” he explains during a recent visit along with his wife to their land.

He quickly adds that his wife has nothing to fear from his planned little despotism “We will be equal, dictators together of our own fate,” he says. “Nobody will suffer from my rule.”

His readiness to join the Kremlin’s land giveaway has caused dismay among some like-minded critics of the Kremlin. Appearing last year on Ekho Moskvy, a radio station popular with Russia’s liberal intelligentsia, he faced repeated questions about how a dogged foe of the authorities like himself could join the settlement project. “I am not supporting Putin’s programme,” he said. “I am using it. I’m doing this for myself.”

Russia, Blagoveshchensk, July 2019: Bridge over the Amur river in Blagoveshchensk

Aside from going online to apply for the land and filling in official forms testifying to his readiness to develop it, however, Lunin has so far done very little. He has hammered wooden stakes wrapped with red plastic tags into the frozen ground to mark the boundary of his territory but has done nothing substantial to develop it as required by the programme’s rules.

He planned to start last summer, but with only a tent to shelter in during a long and violent storm, he fell ill and retreated to his rented apartment in Blagoveshchensk, the nearest city. He says he will try again this summer and has grand plans to one day grow his own food, cultivate fruit and vegetables for sale, and build a two-storey wooden house next to a small lake at the property’s edge.

To do this, however, he needs money. With a monthly salary of 7,000 rubles (£71) from his day job in Blagoveshchensk as a technician, Lunin gets by with support from his wife, who has a better-paying job at a medical institute. But even with their combined wages, they still have nowhere near enough cash to buy the equipment and materials needed to develop their land.

Unless he does something soon, authorities can take back his property. To demonstrate that he is making some small progress, Lunin plans to build a small hut once the snow melts this year to shelter in and, he hopes, keep covetous officials away until he can save enough to start building something more permanent. Describing himself as an optimist despite his dyspeptic view of Russia and its leaders, he says he learnt long ago to never lose hope or let officials get him down.

“I was free under Brezhnev and am free under Putin,” he says. “I am free inside.”

The New York Times

%d bloggers like this: