Land of combat and labor glory
In the framework of Russian Regions Presentation project VIP-Premier gives the floor to order-decorated Smolensk region and the Hero City of Smolensk. Celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory are coming to the western Russian region on the background of major economic transformations and important projects to recover from the crisis. Although many regional problems are far from resolution, local authorities have embarked on a convincing course of recovery. Smolensk regional Governor Sergei V. Antufyev is the guest of the magazine.
Sergei V. Antufyev has been Smolensk regional governor since December 2007. Born in 1955 in Kazakhstan he graduated from the Tupolev Aircraft Institute in Kazan and the Law Institute at the Russian Interior Ministry. After graduation he worked as engineer-technologist at Smolensk Aircraft Plant. In 1979-1991 he worked in the Komsomol, the Communist Party, and executive authority in Smolensk. In 1993-1994 he was first deputy head of Smolensk administration, and in 1994-1998 – chairman of Smolensk regional legislature and then first deputy head of Smolensk regional administration. In 2002 he was Smolensk legislature representative in the Russian Federation Council, and from 2003 – member of the Russian State Duma. He is secretary of the political council of Smolensk regional branch of the United Russia Party. Awarded with the medal of the Order For the Merits to the Motherland II degree. Married with a daughter.
GATE TO RUSSIA
– Mr. Governor! Smolensk region boasts a major patriotic history. What is the role of Smolensk region in strengthening the Russian state?
– Smolensk region truly has a rich history. Its residents distinguished themselves yet in 1410 during the Grunwald battle. At that time three regiments of Smolensk soldiers defeated Teutonic knights and promoted the victory in the whole battle. Smolensk also played a major role in the Time of Trouble (1609-1611) when Polish King Sigismund III was advancing to Moscow and bringing his son Vladimir to the Moscow throne. His troops were stranded near Smolensk for some 22 months, which gave Moscow enough time to form militia and save the country. It would be impossible to stop the adversary without the fortress wall of the city. Less than a third of the wall has been preserved (it was build by famous Russian architect Fedor Kon in the second half of the XVI century). It is planned to fully restore the fortress wall for the celebrations of Smolensk 1150th anniversary in 2013.
Smolensk also played an important role in the 1812 war. Guerrilla movement emerged at the time in Sychevsk district. Local headwoman Vasilisa Kozhina with her peasants and Denis Davydov with his hussars fought a guerrilla war in Vyazma district against the French troops.
And finally, the Smolensk battle against the Nazis in 1941 shall be recalled. The Germans have occupied Belarus in two weeks, while Smolensk resisted until October. The fighting for Smolensk, the Vyazma entrapment, and the battle near Yelnya gave time to Moscow to prepare for defense. We recollect all the developments specifically on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory. It is very important today for Smolensk region to be economically strong and serve as a perfect gate to Russia. Smolensk region plays a specific role, as they judge Russia by it.
LOGISTICS ARE OUR RESOURCE
– The region has a long agrarian and industrial history. Have priority guidelines of economic development been defined? What are the guidelines?
– We can say that we foresaw the program vision of our President Dmitry Medvedev and staked on deep timber processing as priority guideline in agriculture. In 2009 we launched a plywood facility in Gagarin that deals with deep timber processing. In the same year we presented at the economic forum in Sochi a new investment project and received from the Russian Investment Fund 800 million rubles for the construction of an enterprise to produce wood chipboard in the settlement of Igorevka in Kholm-Zhirkovsky district. Both enterprises process the so-called unsorted timber which is insufficiently used in the country so far. In Smolensk region conifers comprise only 30 percent of the whole forest reserves, therefore, deep processing of leaf wood is the only proper guideline for us.
We pay specific attention to logistics development and have to quickly cope with the task because of the crisis. Smolensk region is a transit territory. Three federal highways cross the region, including #1 highway from Moscow to Minsk and further to Western Europe. It carries over 30 percent of total Russian cargoes. There is also a major railroad capacity in the direction. In May 2009 I addressed an international logistics conference in Munich. We demonstrated all our transport corridors, both operating and the planned North-South route. The new transport corridor will emerge due to the start-up of a port in Ust-Luga in Leningrad region. It is proposed to change the traditional cargo delivery itinerary from the Baltic to Moscow and St. Petersburg and reduce the load on existing highways by building a railway and a road that will be shifted to the West – from Ust-Luga through Pskov, Smolensk, and Bryansk regions and further to Novorossiisk. We have signed an agreement with the Bremen Institute of Sea Transportation and Logistics in Germany and the partners will prepare a feasibility study for the project. We want to create with the assistance of the German partners in 2011 modern inter-modal transport logistic facilities that meet international requirements.
We also plan to use our airport which belongs to the Defense ministry and where aircraft of any class can land. We want to change the status of the airport and make it dual-purpose: both military and civilian.
FLAX IS RUSSIAN IMAGE
– Flax production used to be a very profitable business in Smolensk. Do you stake on that agricultural resource today?
– I believe flax deserves more attention from us. It has been grown in Russia during the whole history of the country. Flax is an important crop. In Soviet years the flax field in Smolensk region was second only to Tver region and comprised 100 thousand hectares. Later the attention to the crop dropped for undeserved reasons. Today we sow some five thousand hectares.
Unfortunately, flax production infrastructure has been ruined. Any industry is considered promising if it can arrange for the “field-shop” chain. After privatization many links in the chain could not exist independently. There are no flax enterprises in the western Russian region any longer. The nearest one is in Orsha in Belarus, but Belarus deals with flax production at a state level and we cannot compete with it so far. Earlier the region used to have two flax facilities – in Smolensk and Vyazma. Today Smolensk facility stays idle, while the enterprise in Vyazma has just resumed operations. It specializes in short fiber and produces tent and sack cloth. Flax production revival in Smolensk region demands major investments. I believe today we can speak only about preservation of at least 20 percent of the flax potential which used to exist in the region. But we are well aware we cannot bury the historic agricultural industry and set the task of reviving it.
– Smolensk region has a nuclear power plant. Does it ease the life of the region in energy supplies?
– The Smolensk nuclear power plant and the town of Desnogorsk where nuclear engineers live is mostly an issue of prestige for the region, as nuclear power engineering employs highly skilled people – technical intelligentsia. A lot of them want to work here. But we cannot speak about energy dividends, as the nuclear power plant cannot supply us with cheap energy directly (due to the absence of transportation costs to Smolensk) as it is plugged into the unified Russian energy system. Its electricity arrives to us from the unified “pool” without any discounts. However, the nuclear power plant is our taxpayer. On the other hand, the presence of the nuclear power plant on the territory of Smolensk region is an additional burden on the regional budget as we annually earmark over 50 million rubles for social compensations to people living in the so-called risk zone or within 30 kilometers from the plant. Although the compensation has been cancelled at the federal level, we preserved it at the regional level, as nothing has psychologically changed for the people who lived and continue to live in the risk zone.
– Desnogorsk is a single-industry town. Today there are major problems with such towns in Russia…
– There are no problems with the town of nuclear engineers as electricity has been always in demand. Desnogorsk is a nice looking and socially stable town. We have seven towns in the region (including Desnogorsk) that depend on a single enterprise – Safonovo, Dorogobuzh, Roslavl, Dukhovshchina, Kholm-Zhirkovsky, and Yartsevo. Definitely, they create points of tensions for us as they depend on the performance and financial situation of a single enterprise. So far we are in control of the situation there.
MEZHREGIONGAZ IN SMOLENSK REGION
– How does Smolensk region develop relations with the leading national energy company Gazprom?
– We maintain normal relations of partnership with Mezhregiongaz, a subsidiary of Gazprom. After I became governor I traveled to Moscow to meet Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller. The gas distribution network covered only 21 percent of the countryside in the western outpost region. They say the theater begins at the cloakroom. It means Russia begins at Smolensk region for the West. Mr. Miller responded with understanding.
Only in 2008 we earmarked 600 million rubles for gas distribution network expansion in rural areas and upped from 21 to 38 percent. In 2010 we shall reach 44 percent. Two districts of the region – Velezh and Ugran – have no gas supplies at all so far, but they are a priority in our gas distribution plans.
– Belarus is the closest Smolensk western neighbor. How do customs and border relations develop, in which Smolensk region participates? What business contacts do Smolensk residents have with Belarus?
– Smolensk region and Belarus have 514 kilometers of common border in the framework of the Union State, which today has a vague status, unfortunately. The agreement on the creation of a common customs space between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan came into force in 2010 and we hope problems in border crossing regime between Russia and Belarus will be eliminated, including for the movement of goods.
Belarussian goods (dairy products, in particular) are a major factor for Smolensk region. Belarussian producers enjoy benefits and a bigger state support at home, they have a different pricing policy which makes their goods more competitive on Smolensk market. Therefore, we experience a certain pressure from Belarussian products. For example, the Belarussians produce six million tons of milk and sell four million in Russia. During the recent so-called “milk war” our dairy facilities reported increased attention to their products. But on the other hand, we realize that brotherly peoples should cooperate along all guidelines and that demand for Belarussian products will always exist. We build up our relations with Belarus on the basis of agreements. We have long-term agreements with bordering and other regions – Mogilev, Vitebsk, Minsk, Gomel, and Brest. Ninety-three joint ventures are operating on the territory of Smolensk region.
We are linked historically. Smolensk region has numerously changed its boundaries and once used to be the biggest region in the USSR that was called the Western Commune with a population of over six million people. It included Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Minsk regions and Smolensk was the administrative center. In 1918 (German troops were in Minsk at the time) it was in Smolensk that Belarussian statehood was proclaimed. Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko visited Smolensk for the 80th anniversary of Belarus that was marked in 1998. We have rich cultural ties and hold joint festivals and contests and exchange youth delegations. Over 4000 girls and boys from Belarus are currently studying in higher educational establishments in Smolensk.
THE WONDERFUL DNIEPER
– The great Dnieper River begins in Smolensk region and flows down to Ukraine. Does your region have any contacts with the country?
– I cannot boast that relations with Ukrainian regions are as good as with Belarus. We have no direct border, but we naturally do not forget Ukraine. Last December Smolensk hosted a major event, which was a conference of commerce and industry chambers of Russian, Belarussian, and Ukrainian regions where the Dnieper flows. Representatives of 14 regions arrived. Ukraine and Belarus were represented by their ambassadors to Russia and Russian ambassadors to their countries, representatives of the Permanent committee of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. We talked about building solid relations of partnership among the regions.
– What changes occurred in Smolensk eparchy after Kirill was elected the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia?
– We got a new archbishop after Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill was elected the Patriarch of All Russia. The Smolensk and Kaliningrad eparchy was divided into two eparchies. Pheophilact was appointed the archbishop of Smolensk and Vyazma, while Serafim headed the Kaliningrad and Baltic eparchy.
We are proud that the Patriarch paid his first official visit to Smolensk after election. We hope the Patriarch will make another official visit to our region in summer as he is paying specific attention to Smolensk. A delegation of Smolensk eparchy was among the first to be invited to festive worship services revived by the Patriarch in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. When the Patriarch paid the first visit to our region he said an historical phrase: “I learned Russia through Smolensk”.
Everything related to Orthodoxy is very important for us. Smolensk region is unique as it hosts three XII century cathedrals and restored numerous monasteries. We plan to implement a project called Smolensk Region – Center of Orthodox Pilgrimage.
HISTORY PRESSURES US
– Smolensk region enjoys a rich cultural aura. Which new creative events await Smolensk residents and guests in the process of spanning the past and present?
– When three years ago we discussed the idea of the Golden Phoenix film festival (two of them have been successfully held) skeptics were against, but they were put to shame as the interest in the film festival surpassed all expectations. The Golden Phoenix demonstrates films shot by current and former cinema actors. Outstanding film producers attend the festival. Why was Smolensk region chosen as the venue? Because it is the native place of such distinguished theater and cinema actors, as Lyudmila Kasatkina, Anatoly Papanov, Yuri Nikulin, Ilya Frez, and Sergei Nikonenko. Besides the Golden Phoenix, the region also holds the Smolensk Ark theatrical festival and Glinka festival in Novospasskoe, the native place of Glinka. We live a rich cultural life and have no right to do it otherwise, as history pressures us. Smolensk land gave birth to an incredible number of talents: cosmonaut Gagarin, sculptor Konenkov, traveler Przhevalsky, poets Tvardovsky (his centennial will be marked in June 2010), Isakovsky, Rylenkov, composer Glinka, writers Sokolov-Mikitov and Vasilyev, pilot Lavochkin, helicopter designers Yuryev and Dokuchayev, Counts Potemkins – father and children, soil scientist Alexander Engelgard, art patron Maria Tenesheva, and artist Nikolas Roerich liked to work here.
Here in Smolensk region the history of the country and outstanding masterpieces were created. The region is distinguished on the Russian map by the number of key events and names related to it.
By Yuri SHILOV
When the issue was ready to come out tragic news spread from Smolensk across the whole world: an aircraft carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife as well as a delegation comprising members of the top national leadership crashed while landing in heavy fog. All passengers and crew, a total of 96 people, were killed. The high-level delegation was heading for Katyn (near Smolensk) to participate in memorial events devoted to the 70th anniversary of the execution of Polish army officers there. Earlier Prime Ministers of Poland and Russia Donald Tusk and Vladimir Putin attended the opening of the event. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed sincere condolences to the relatives of the killed and announced a day of mourning in Russia on April 12. On that day Smolensk Deputy Governor Olga Okuneva, Vice-Governors Petr Lopashinov and Mikhail Sharin (Governor Sergei Antufyev was in Moscow at the time), deputy chairman of Smolensk regional legislature Nikolai Martynov and lawmakers laid wreaths to the memorial stone at the site of the air crash. Smolensk residents were shocked by the catastrophe and brought bouquets of flowers to the site of the crash and to the Katyn memorial. Orthodox and Catholic churches of Smolensk held services in remembrance of the dead. Flowers, candles, and oil lamps at the crash site were an expression of grief and solidarity of Smolensk residents with the people of Poland in connection with the tragedy.