1 de maio de 2012

Two island, one name, worlds apart...

With over 37.000 km of coast (assuming that we can determine the length of any coastline) Russia is only preceded by Canada and Indonesia (and Greenland, if we count Greenland it as a country) in terms of land/ocean interface extent. The result of such is the existence of an incalculable number of island and peninsulas.

In fact, there are so many islands that Russians have even named two with the same name. This could be just another "cartographic geek trivia" if both islands would not mirror contrasting aspects of modern Russia. 

The islands in question are named Russky. There are two "Russkys". The larger (about 300 km^2) is located in the Kara Sea. Now, this is a place for the brave since we are talking about a location at 77º north latitude! To have an idea, the Kara Sea in which Russky rest was originally called Mare Glacial since it remains frozen for nine months per year. Due to its isolation the Russky island was largely ignored until 1933 when the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route decided to create a network of  arctic stations devoted to navigation and science in the Russian arctic domain. One of these stations was constructed in the  Russky island. In parallel with measurements of climate conditions, the station of Russky also had the task of monitoring the navigability across the Vilkitsky Strait. Now, this was rather important, if the straight would be open it meant that ship could cross from the Kara Sea to the Laptev Sea and further east territories. 

The station in arctic Russky enjoyed from an anonymous existence thought the 20th century and only hit the headline due to a rather obscure naval fight between a Nazi armored vessel and a Russian icebreaker. No one knows exactly how but the fact is that the crew from little icebreaker defeated the mighty German war vessel. In addition to monitor sea ice and climate its remoteness made it perfect for the study of several animal populations such as the crazy Little Stint. But the Russky station would not the see dawn of the 21st century. The lack of funding determined the shut down of the station in 1999 and its current state of abandonment.

The second Russky is three times smaller and situated at 43º latitude in the sea of Japan. The "asian" Russky enjoys from a warmer climate that its arctic sister. Long beaches are common and its low level of urbanization made the island a popular destination for Russians living in Vladivostok, the biggest city around. Unlike the "arctic Russky" the "asian" Russky is benefiting from massive flows of investment. The official story behind is that the government wants to promote the socio-economic development of the island that remains relatively isolated. The ambitions of Russia for the little island are better captured by the construction of what is about to be the largest cable-stayed bridge in the world connecting Russky island to Vladivostok. By the way, the bridge is called "bridge to Russky island".  

The magnitude of the investment is also probably related with the silent threat of China's growing economic power in the region. The Russian government choose therefore the island as the location for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2012.  Investments on a new campus for the Far Eastern Federal University and several other infrastructure projects are expected to raise the life standards of the island stable population. This is a massive  look out China, the island is Russian!.  Like every large infrastructural project, the investments made in Russky divides the population of Russky. Only time will tell about the destiny of the new emerging Russky. As for its arctic sister, the destiny appears to be sealed.

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