Arctic Yearbook 2015 - Page 159

159 Arctic Yearbook 2015 of the post-Soviet transition has caused a number of hardships and problems for people living in the north. One of the most remote regions in the Russian Federation is the Chukotskii Autonomous Okrug (Chukotka). Located in the far eastern part of the country, across the narrow Bering Strait from Alaska, Chukotka is nine time zones and over 6000 kilometers away from the Russian capital, Moscow. Throughout most of the Soviet period, the region was supported by the central government. This support prompted an influx of migrants from other parts of the Soviet Union in search of good wages, housing and other state benefits. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, central largesse evaporated and Chukotka, like many other northern regions in the newly constituted Russian Federation, underwent a dramatic demographic and economic collapse. Although this collapse was stemmed by the intervention of Roman Abramovich, one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs and governor of Chukotka from 2000-2008, the region and its inhabitants are still struggling to overcome the challenges of governance and development in a northern and remote setting. This chapter will examine the political and economic development of Chukotka with a particular focus on the fate of the region’s indigenous peoples during the post-Soviet period. Controlled politically and economically by the communist state and overwhelmed demographically by the influx of migrants during the Soviet period, Chukotka’s indigenous peoples have experienced both positive and negative changes as a result of the post-Soviet transition. While the wholesale collapse of state support in the 1990s caused severe economic hardships, the out-migration of non-indigenous settlers has rebalanced the demographic composition of the region, a change that could signal a resurgence of the region’s indigenous identity, both culturally and politically. Despite the legacies of authoritarianism, the political transition away from the communist system encouraged the region’s indigenous peoples to become active in a number of domestic and international organizations and initiatives. More recently, however, the return of centralization and state control, especially under Russian President Vladimir Putin, has limited the activities of indigenous organizations across Russia, thereby curtailing the political aspirations of indigenous peoples in Chukotka. The chapter draws mainly on English-language research and secondary sources on the region. It uses some Russian language sources, mainly from the local media, but it does not include interviews with regional or local officials because of the political and logistical challenges associated with conducting fieldwork in such a remote and politically sensitive region. Part one situates Chukotka within the broader context of the Russian federal system and reviews its political transition in the post-Soviet period. Part two discusses the demographic and economic challenges that the region has faced since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Part three explores the impacts of development on Chukotka’s indigenous peoples during the Soviet period. Part four examines the efforts by indigenous peoples in Chukotka, to self-determine and outlines some of the key political challenges that they face at the start of the 21st century. The political evolution of Chukotka in the post-Soviet period Observers of Russian federalism and regional politics have noted a series of important trends in the relationship between the federal and regional governments since the collapse of the Soviet Union in Wilson & Kormos