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Russia’s Pacific coast is like a neglected backyard adjacent to other people’s flourishing properties — thistle and thorn where others have lawns and flower beds; a rusty hoe and a filthy bucket against neighbors’ mowers and garden hoses. Since Russia expanded into the area three centuries ago, other Far Eastern nations — Japan, China, Korea — have risen, fallen, and then risen again, yet the Pacific Russia stayed unchanged: a string of fortresses guarding a pristine coast.

Every leader in Russia’s modern history had promised to develop it, and keeping with the tradition President Vladimir Putin in 2014 ordered another overhaul. The first casualty of the campaign was a group of local officials, including the governor of Sakhalin. Accused of embezzlement, they were arrested in front of TV cameras. The second victim was Putin’s long-suffering stand-in, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, dispatched to the Pacific to show that Moscow cared.

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