The coat of arms of Vladivostok, from Wikipedia

The coat of arms of Vladivostok, from Wikipedia

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AS A GAME SETTING

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Vladivostok Panorama, from http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1015/890053076_d3c1d03333_b.jpg


This page consists of a number of setting ideas derived from the idea of Moscow as a game setting. They are still Russia, but a very different location and environment to that of Moscow. It is divided into the following sections:

Click on the section names to return to the top of the page.


THE CITY OF VLADIVOSTOK


OVERVIEW

At the far end of the Trans-Siberian Railway, nine thousand three hundred kilometres by rail and seven time zones east of Moscow, lies the city of Vladivostok, whose name means 'Lord of the East'. Vladivostok is a very European city in such as Eastern location, and is the main Russian gateway to the Far East and the rest of Asia.

The Location of Vladivostok
Map of the location of Vladivostok, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Russia_-_Roesski-Vladivostok.PNG

Situated in the part of Russia sandwiched between China, North Korea and Japan, Vladivostok's population of six hundred thousand people [roughly the same size as Stuttgart, Dortmund, Rotterdam or Fort Worth, and larger than Liverpool in the UK] is a cosmopolitan one, with people of many nationalities - including Europeans and Americans - living and working there. There are many outside investors (mainly Americans), and a few Japanese.

Since the fall of Communism and the Soviet Union, Vladivostok has worked hard to re-invent itself as Russia's financial centre in Asia, modernising as fast as it can, often at the expense of public services and the poor. Many businesses, both Russian and foreign, have opened offices in Vladivostok, taking advantage of its location to expand into new Russian markets. Unfortunately, the crime rate and cost of living have also increased during this time, and the city is believed to be a hotbed of organized crime - Russian [the 'Mafioski'], Japanese and Chinese - and abuse of power by regional and municipal authorities. The once mighty Russian Pacific Fleet rusts at the dockside, but the local rich have plenty of money to burn at the Casino Versailles.

Who knows what plots to recover defectors by their governments may be in progress in the city. Or what would-be warlords are scheming to take over the region, incorporate it into North Korea or back into China, or conquer the neighbouring nations using the city as a base...

In addition to all of this there are also Chinese and North Korean refugees, defectors and illegal immigrants as well as people from the countryside seeking work or new lives in the city. Vladivostok also has one of the largest Armenian communities in eastern Russia, who along with many others were deported there during the rule of Joseph Stalin.

The main exports from Vladivostok are fish, timber products, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and ships. The main import items are food products, medicine, clothing, footwear, automobiles, household technical items, and ships.


HISTORY

The area in which the city of Vladivostok now stands was originally settled by the Chinese. However, it was ceded by China to Russia as a result of the unequal treaties of Aigun in 1858 and Peking in October 1860. The settlement itself was founded by Russia in June 1860, and from this expanded into a Free Port, naval base and shipyard, officially becoming a city in 1880. From there its population continued to expand, and with it the size, diversity and cultural life of the city.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, in 1918 the city was occupied by the Japanese and British, who wished to protect their interests there, and its population was massively swelled by an influx of those opposed to the new communist regime in Russia. This had the side effect of boosting the cultural profile of the city.

In 1922 the Russian communist regime took over Vladivostok, causing many of the intelligentsia of the city to flee abroad. The communists developed the city further, educationally, culturally, industrially and militarily. In 1930 they closed the city to foreigners, and even people from other parts of Russia without permission, and not long after this began using it as a transport hub for political prisoners deported to the Russian Far East.

The US consulate in Vladivostok was closed in 1948.

With all of this taking place there are numerous opportunities for corporate infighting, corporate espionage, sabotage and so on here, as well as potential problems with any of the various organised crime groups operating in the region.

After the 1954 visit of Nikita Khrushchev intensive development of the city began, creating new suburbs and industries, in particular the fishing industry.

In 1974 a meeting of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Leonid Brezhnev and the president of the USA, Gerald Ford, was held in Vladivostok. However, it was only in 1992 that Vladivostok was officially opened to visits by foreigners.

Since then foreign investment and development has been rapid, so that in 1996 there were six consulates (of the USA, and of other nations in the region), correspondent offices of four Japanese TV companies, a US information service, more than one hundred representative offices of foreign firms and approximately six hundred joint venture enterprises in Vladivostok.


ORGANISATIONS AND INSTITUTIONS

Vladivostok is the capital of the region of Primorsky Krai.

Depending on the nature of a given game set here and the level of corruption present, any of criminals, corporations, foreign governments or supervillains could have obtained any or all of military small arms, nuclear weapons, entire ships or experimental super-weapons from the Russian Pacific Fleet, via simple theft or corrupt naval personnel.

Vladivostok is home to the Russian Pacific Fleet. There are also various other military bases in the area.

Vladivostok is home to the Far Eastern State University, a university of some four thousand staff and thirty-six thousand students which is considered to be one of the top Russian universities. Established in 1899, the university was closed in the late 1930s under Joseph Stalin, and reopened in 1956, two years after Nikita Khrushchev visited Vladivostok. The university offers several programs to foreigners wishing to visit and learn Russian language and literature. It also has branch programs in Japan and Taiwan.

In addition to this, Vladivostok is home to the Far Eastern State Technical University, the Marine State University (with some five thousand students), the Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service (with some twenty thousand students), Vladivostok State Medical University, the Pacific State University of Economics, the Presidium of the Far Eastern Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences and ten of its research institutes, and the Pacific Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography.

Taking all of these institutions into account, some ten percent of the population of Vladivostok is made up of students.

Over fifty newspapers and regional additions to Moscow publications are published in Vladivostok. The largest newspaper of the Primorsky Krai and the whole Russian Far East is 'Vladivostok' with a circulation of 124000 copies at the beginning of 1996. Its publisher also issues a weekly English-language newspaper, the 'Vladivostok News'. The 'Zolotoy Rog' [Golden Horn] newspaper provides detailed economic news. Entertainment materials and cultural news constitute a larger part of the 'Novosti' (News) newspaper which is the most popular among the young people of the region.

Vladivostok is home to the football club FC Luch-Energia Vladivostok, who play in the Russian Premier League, and the basketball club Spartak-Primorye.


ENVIRONMENT

Who knows what environmental cover-ups are taking place here, and what corruption is occurring? And in some settings, what pollution-spawned freaks and monsters are being created in these areas?

Two thirds of the suburbs of Vladivostok are so polluted that living in them is classified as a health hazard. Some areas, such as those near the printing works in Pokrovsky Park and the Far Eastern National University campus, are so polluted that they are defined as ecological disaster zones. Pollution includes toxins and heavy metals, such as cadmium, zirconium, cobalt, arsenic, and mercury. Only a few areas have permissible levels of contamination. It is said that there is nowhere in the area that is really healthy to live.

The pollution has a number of causes. Vladivostok has some eighty industrial sites, such as shipbuilding and repairing, power stations, printing, fur farming and mining. Most of these use old equipment and so are particularly environmentally unfriendly.

In addition, Vladivostok has a particularly vulnerable geography which compounds the effects of its pollution. Winds cannot clear pollution from some of the most densely populated areas around the Pervaya and Vtoraya Rechka as they sit in basins which the winds blow over rather than through. In addition there is little snow in winter and no leaves or grass to catch the dust and so remove it from the air.


This is, of course, an opportunity for characters to rescue people.

It often floods in Vladivostok. In some parts of the city manhole covers are often stolen and sold for scrap, and in most places the street-lighting is poor or non-existent. Because of this during floods it is not unheard of for people to disappear down open manholes hidden under the floodwater, and drown there.

Also, Siberian tigers sometimes attack people in the outer parts of the city.


THE RUSSIAN FAR EAST

Of course, Vladivostok is not the only place of interest in the far east of Russia. The Russian Far East is an area larger than Western Europe, and covers over one third of the land area of Russia. Despite this is has a population of less than seven million people, most of whom are concentrated in its southern regions. As such it does not quite have the adventure potential of a more developed region, though of course it would be an ideal location for all sorts of wilderness adventures. Even without this there are still enough interesting locations within it to support any number of games. For example:


Lake Baikal

The deepest and oldest lake in the world, Lake Baikal is also the largest freshwater lake on Earth by volume, containing over twenty percent of the world's liquid fresh surface water and more than ninety percent of Russia's liquid fresh surface water. It is six hundred and thirty-six kilometres long, eighty kilometres wide, and sixteen hundred and thirty-seven metres deep, making it the deepest lake in the world. Formed from a geological rift, Lake Baikal is some twenty-five to thirty million years old, making it one of the most ancient lakes in geological history. In geological terms, the rift is young and active so that the lake widens by about two centimetres per year. There are hot springs in the area and notable earthquakes every few years. Below the lake bottom lies some seven kilometres of sediment, placing the rift floor some eight or nine kilometres below the surface.

Lake Baikal has a very rich and diverse ecosystem, which includes the unique Baikal Seal. The lake suffers from pollution from the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill, which bleaches its paper with chlorine and discharges the waste into Baikal. The unsuccessful opposition to the construction of the mill in 1966 formed the basis of the Russian ecological movement.

The lake is also known as the Blue Eye of Siberia, and there are rumours of a monster of some kind living in Lake Baikal.


Irkutsk

One of the largest cities in Siberia, Irkutsk is a fortified military post, an archbishopric of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the administrative centre of Irkutsk Oblast. It lies on the river Angara, a tributary of the Yenisei, some seventy-two kilometres below its outflow from Lake Baikal. It lies on the Trans-Siberian Railway.


The Jewish Autonomous Oblast

An area the size of Belgium with a population of some one hundred and ninety thousand people, the The Jewish Autonomous Oblast lies some six hundred kilometres north of Vladivostok on the border with northern China. Originally largely uninhabited swampland, it was founded in 1928 as the Jewish National District under the aegis of Stalin's nationality policy, by which each of the national groups that formed the Soviet Union would receive a territory in which to pursue cultural autonomy in a socialist framework. It was also established because Stalin wished to populate the long and vulnerable border with China. In addition to this the formation of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was a ploy to deflate potentially dangerous Zionist movements within the young Soviet Union.

Wanting to escape persecution and famine in western Russia and the Ukraine the first settlers needed little persuading to go, despite the harsh Siberian winter and hot mosquito-infested summers. Between 1928 and 1938 more than forty thousand Jews immigrated into the region, particularly the capital of Birobidzhan, which lies on the Trans-Siberian Railway, though they often arrived with few supplies and little preparation. Despite this by the mid-1930s it was a thriving centre of Jewish culture, to the extent that a few Jews from places such as the USA, France and Argentina moved there.

However, in 1936 Stalin unleashed the Great Terror and its following Terrors. These did their best to destroy Jewish culture in the region. This caused the Birobidzhan experiment to grind to a halt. Shortly after this, World War II brought any concerted efforts to bring Jews east to an abrupt end.

There was a slight revival in the Birobidzhan idea after World War II as a potential home for Jewish refugees, and during this time, the Jewish population of the region peaked at almost one-third of the total. Efforts in this direction ended, however, with the Doctors' plot, the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state, and Stalin's second wave of purges shortly before his death. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 the Jews of the region had faced decades of hardship and religious persecution. With the new liberal post-Soviet emigration policies this resulted in the greatest exodus of Jews in post-Soviet Russia. During one month in 1998 six charter jets full of emigrants left for Israel. This has led to Jews now constituting only 1.2% of the population, that is some two thousand three hundred people.


Kamchatka

A twelve hundred and fifty kilometre long peninsula in the east of the Russian Far East which forms most of the region of Kamchatka Krai, Kamchatka has some one hundred and sixty volcanoes, of which some twenty nine are currently active. Earthquakes and tsunamis are also fairly common there. No roads connect the Kamchatka Peninsula to the rest of the world.

This has the same potential problems with theft and so on as the Russian Pacific Fleet base in Vladivostok.

In addition to the normal problems of crime and corruption, Kamchatka could also be home to stories involving the environment, volcanic energy exploitation or volcanic beings of some kind, and any number of similar plots.

The region is home to some four hundred thousand people, almost half of whom live in the capital of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. This is a coastal city built on high hills around Avacha Bay and surrounded by volcanoes. Across Avacha Bay is Russia's largest submarine base, the Rybachiy Nuclear Submarine Base, which was established during Soviet times and still used by the Russian Navy.

The climate of Kamchatka is moderate compared to the rest of Siberia, ranging from temperate to subarctic, with a great deal of rainfall. The region has diverse and abundant wildlife due to its diverse topography and geography, many free-flowing rivers, proximity to the highly productive waters of the north-western Pacific Ocean and the Bering and Okhotsk Seas, and to the low human population density and minimal development. Despite this commercial exploitation of marine resources and a history of fur trapping has taken its toll on several species.

After World War II Kamchatka was declared a military zone and was to Russians until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990. Since then it has developed its own tourism industry, as well as various foreign investments, in particular in fishing rights.


Khabarovsk

The administrative centre and the largest city of Khabarovsk Krai, Khabarovsk is located some thirty kilometres from the Chinese border and is the second largest city in the Russian Far East, after Vladivostok itself. It is a stop on the Trans-Siberian railway. The city has never been closed to foreigners and retains its historically international flavour. The capital of the Soviet Far East from 1926 to 1938, since the demise of the Soviet Union it has experienced an increased Asian presence. The city's five districts stretch for forty-five kilometres along the Amur River. In recent years there have been many renovations in the city's downtown, rebuilding it with a historical perspective.

A picturesque city, highlights of Khabarovsk include the broad Amursky Boulevard with its many shops, and its local markets. A popular attraction for visitors is a walking tour from Lenin Square to Utes via Muravieva-Amurskii Street, where visitors can find traditional Russian cuisine restaurants and souvenir shops. There are many night clubs and so on in this area. It is estimated that over one million Chinese travel to and through Khabarovsk on an annual basis and foreign investment by Japanese and Korean corporations has grown in recent years.


Magadan

Who is to say that there are not valuable or interesting relics left by prisoners who died in the gulags and took their secrets to the grave? For example in a game with superhumans or magic, secret magical or super-technological items could be buried with them. And these would of course be of interest to their children, or others who find out about them in some way. There could also be rumours and treasure maps of lodes of gold and other valuable minerals found by prisoners in the gulags and kept secret by them, to be passed on to descendants and friends, leading to searches in later years, after the fall of communism.

A port on the Sea of Okhotsk with a population of nearly one hundred thousand in 2002 (down from just over one hundred and fifty thousand in 1989), Magadan is a city in and the administrative centre of Magadan Oblast. Ship building and fishing are the major industries. The city has a seaport which is navigable from May to December and from which the mineral mined in the region are exported, as well as a major airport.

Founded in 1933 during the Stalin era, Magadan was a major transit centre for prisoners being sent to the gulags. The operations of Dal'stroi (an acronym for Far North Construction Trust), a vast and brutal forced-labour gold-mining concern, were the main economic driver of the city for many decades during Soviet times.

Magadan is very isolated. There is only one road in and out, and the nearest city is Yakutsk, more than two thousand kilometres away down a road that is only half paved. A highway leads from Magadan to the gold-mining region on the upper Kolyma River. This is known as the 'Road of Bones' because of the prisoners who died during its construction and whose bones were incorporated into the road.

The climate of Magadan is sub-arctic. Winters are prolonged and very cold, with up to six months of sub-zero temperatures, so that the soil remains permanently frozen. Permafrost and tundra cover most of the region.


Nakhodka

A port city in Primorsky Krai, to the east of Vladivostok, Nakhodka had nearly one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants as of the 2002 Census. Its name in Russian means 'a lucky find' because Nakhodka Bay, around which the city is built, was discovered in 1859 by the Russian corvette 'Amerika', which was seeking shelter during a storm.

As with Vladivostok, with all of this taking place there are numerous opportunities for corporate infighting, corporate espionage, sabotage and so on here.

Before 1950 Nakhodka was a tiny fishing village. However, once the Soviet authorities closed Vladivostok to foreigners and foreign shipping when the Soviet Pacific Fleet came to be based there Nakhodka grew quickly, becoming the primary deep water port in the Russian Far East, and the Eastern terminus for the passenger portion of the Trans-Siberian railway. Many of the buildings in the city date from this time, when Japanese prisoners of war were used as forced labour to build housing for the incoming port workers. The heyday of the city was in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was very well-cared for, being the only Far Eastern port truly open to foreigners. The city's economy, based mostly around the port and port-related activity such as fish processing and canning, has suffered since 1992 when Vladivostok was re-opened to foreign activity. Nakhodka has been declared a 'Free economic zone', and the governments in both Moscow (on the federal level) and Vladivostok (on the regional level) are interested in opening the city to increased foreign investment.


Sakhalin

Again, with all of this taking place there are numerous opportunities for corporate infighting, corporate espionage, sabotage and so on here.

A large island off the Russian coast to the north of Japan over which Russia and Japan have long-running disputes over ownership, and which despite being Russian still has a significant Japanese population. The economy of Sakhalin relies on oil and gas exports, coal mining, forestry, and fishing. There are also limited quantities of rye, wheat, oats, barley and vegetables grown there, although the growing season averages less than one hundred days. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and economic liberalization, Sakhalin has experienced an oil boom with extensive petroleum exploration and mining by most of the world's large oil multinationals.

Most of the population lives in the southern half of the island, cantered mainly around the capital of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and two ports, Kholmsk and Korsakov, each with a population of some fifty thousand people. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk itself is a city of some two hundred thousand people, and has a large Korean minority many who were forcibly brought by the Japanese during World War II to work in the coal mines. Before 1945 there were also some four hundred thousand Japanese inhabitants of Sakhalin. These were deported following the conquest of the southern portion of the island by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Owing to the influence of the raw, foggy Sea of Okhotsk, the climate of Sakhalin is very cold. Thick clouds for the most part shut out the sun, while the cold current from the Sea of Okhotsk, aided by north-east winds, brings immense ice-floes to the east coast in summer.


The Trans-Siberian Railway

The Trans-Siberian Railway consists of a network of railways connecting Moscow and European Russia with the Russian Far East provinces, Mongolia, China and the Sea of Japan. There are actually four rail routes running from Europe across Siberia.

Obviously there are plenty of opportunities for problems with the railway, criminal involvement, attempted bribery and other forms of corruption.

The Trans-Siberian line remains the most important traffic connection within Russia, and around thirty percent of Russian exports travel on the line. It attracts many foreign tourists, but is also much used by Russian people to travel within the country. It carries some twenty thousand containers per year to Europe, including more than eight thousand from Japan, though this is only some two percent of the total number of containers shipped from Japan to Europe per year. The Russian Ministry of Transport has plans to dramatically increase the capacity of the railway.


Tunguska

Tunguska is a region to the north of Lake Baikal known mainly for the Tunguska Event, a mysterious explosion that occurred at 7:17 AM on June 30, 1908. The explosion was probably caused by the airburst of a meteorite or comet six to ten kilometres above the surface of the Earth, although there are also more ... speculative ... explanations including the impact of a black hole, antimatter, or a UFO. Whatever is was, it had an energy of between ten and fifteen megatons of TNT and felled an estimated sixty million trees over more than two thousand square kilometres.


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