Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilRubriquesEspace, Société, Territoire2004Development of the marginal fores...


Development of the marginal forested areas of the Russian European North

Le devenir des régions forestières périphériques de la Russie septentrionale
Albina Pashkevich


This study presents the development of the forest sector in the marginal forested areas of the Russian North based on the use of the river basins providing raw material and serving as the natural link between the previously established core and periphery. The forest sector is an important factor in the economic development often serving as the only source of human subsistence and well-being of these areas. The role of the marginal areas in remaining the source of a continuous raw material supply to the main manufacturing centres is crucial. The period of recent Post-Soviet development has showed that marginal areas are becoming increasingly active and concerned with promotion of their economic development by restructuring, rationalising and modernising the forest-based activities.

Haut de page

Texte intégral


  • i
  • 1 Transition or transition period is in this paper used as denomination of the transitional period be (...)

1Although, the primary sector and related to it further processing activities are no longer the only sources contributing to the economic wealth of the developed countries it is certainly the case for many territories of the Russian North (Backman, 1999 ; Bradshaw and Lynn, 1998). The exploitation of forest resources constitutes a considerable share of the income for the regional economies of Republic of Karelia, Arkhangelsk oblast, Komi Republic. The development confined to utilisation of the forest resource wealth is seen as one of the few available solutions to the numerous socio-economic problems faced by these regions. In many cases transitioni1 processes have worsened existing disparities in socio-economic development between the urban and rural areas (Staddon, 1998), being especially evident within the Northern territories of the country. During the period of economic hardship regional authorities were quick to realise that the forest resources once proved the ability to bring considerable revenues in the past could help again. However, the economic environment has changed considerably. The demand for forest products has become more segmented and quality oriented towards use of environmentally friendly techniques with increased attention towards sustainable forest management practices (Backman, 1999 ; Layton and Pashkevich, 2003). The increase of international and domestic competition between producers specialising in forestry production means that geographically marginal areas are not necessarily marginalized in economic terms.

2In the era of an increasingly globalised world economy, structural changes in the West moving away from resource-intensive production does not seem to affect the Russian economy in the same way. However, the urgent need for further diversification of the region’s economy remains, even if the regional development programme lacks alternatives to enhance regional renewal. The difficulties experienced by the forest sector firms in the periphery during the economic transition are connected to the inherited spatial organisation of the sector and the relationship existed among the forested areas and centres of further manufacturing. This paper is aiming to analyse how the marginal areas in Russia develop. Are there any signs that the previously established spatial and organisational structure of the forest sector has been challenged by the emerging market economy  ? How does the inherited spatial and economic structure of the forest sector respond to the pressures and demands posed by the new economic order ? Are there any alternatives to the present ‘growth poles’ - strategy to enhance regional renewal ?

Data and Geographical Background of the Study Area

3Some of the data used in the current paper was presented in the working report for the EU-funded 'Barents Sea Impact Study’ (BASIS), which was primarily concerned with the eventual consequences of global climatic change. The presented here investigation represents a follow-up study conducted at the Department of Social and Economic Geography, Umeå University, Sweden and has been financed by a grant from Svenska Institutet via VISBY-programme. The author collected the empirical data during the field trip to Arkhangelsk, North-west Russia. The regional branch of the Russian State Statistical Committee and Arkhangelsk Administrative Forestry Department provided the statistical information.

4The empirical data used for the analysis in this paper covers the area of the Northern Dvina river basin (Arkhangelsk oblast) and administrative districts adjacent to its territory. It includes the six administrative districts - Primorsky (1), Kholmogorsky (2), Pinezhsky (3), Vinogradovsky (4), Verkhnaya Toima (5), and Krasnoborsky (6) (Figure 1). The study area is about 111,900 km2 with a current population of some 843,600 inhabitants. This represents 19% of the oblast’s area but 56% of its population. This disproportion is due to the inclusion of the Arkhangelsk Industrial Centre (AIC) comprising the territories of three largest cities – Arkhangelsk, Severodvinsk and Novodvinsk. The districts chosen for this study districts in the Northern Dvina valley contain nearly 725.4 million m3 of growing stock, which is about 32% of the total forest resources in the Arkhangelsk oblast. The Pinezhsky and Verkhnaya Toima districts contain the biggest proportion of the valley’s forest resources.

Figure 1 : The Northern Dvina river basin and its administrative districts

Present Development of the River Basin Forest-Based Activities

5The overall importance of the forest sector to the economy of the Arkhangelsk oblast remains vital. The sector contributes with 54-60% to total industrial output and it occupies almost 50% of region’s labour force. The role of the sector for the districts economy is expected to represent even greater importance. The analyses of the recent trends in the forest sector production in the river basin allow the following generalisations. Logging activities within the area has during the period 1988 to 1996 declined from 8 to 2.7 million m3 of timber (Figure 2, overleaf). Prior to 1996 Pinezhsky regularly had a leading position among the selected districts, with a top level of nearly 2.2 million m3 in 1989. During the following eight years production fell by 70% to a mere 654,800 m3 in 1996 (Layton and Pashkevich, 2000). During the same period the timber production in Verkhnaya Toima dropped to one third. Since 1996 the timber production has increased in all districts, with the highest levels in Pinezhsky, Kholmogorsky and Verkhnaya Toima. The lowest logging volumes consistently appeared in the districts that were nearest to and most distant from the AIC. Forest resources of the Primorsky district had long been exploited and are therefore of a lesser value to the loggers. However, if the production of sawn timber is analysed, the concentration of the mechanical wood-processing capacities in the Primorsky district becomes evident (Figure 3, overleaf).

Figure 2 : Logging volumes within the Northern Dvina valley 1986-1999. (* Primorsky district here includes the cities of Arkhangelsk, Severodvinsk and Novodvinsk).

Source : Layton and Pashkevich, 2003

Figure 3  : Sawn timber outputs in the Northern Dvina basin 1986-1999. Source : Layton and Pashkevich, 2003

6It appears that production volumes in the Kholmogorsky and Pinezhsky districts located in geographical proximity to AIC infrastructure showed the tendency to recover faster compared to the other districts. At least, according to the production figures, Northern Dvina’s districts can be divided into two categories. The first category consisting of the districts 2-6 can be regarded as ‘timber bases’ providing timber for the enterprises located within district 1, and other minor forest industries along the major river. The second category consists of Primorsky district which has only a small share of the of timber supply (see Figure 2), but it makes up virtually 95% of all of the sawn timber production in the river basin, which is clearly shown in Figure 3. The timber produced within the territory of the river basin in further processed by the major pulp and paper mills, as well as by the sawmills located in Arkhangelsk and Novodvinsk. The observed pattern helps to reveal considerable variations in the outputs of the finished products among the river basin districts supports the core-periphery model of territorial organisation of the forestry sector. This is certainly one of the features that have been inherited by the forest sector activities from the Soviet period of its development. This pattern is seen as a result of a combined effect of the Soviet political framework and exclusive reliance on the natural networks. Yet, another important consequence of the clear division between the peripheral river basin districts (2-6) only acting as sources of the raw material supply to the core district (1) is the unbalanced structure of their economies with the logging activity being a dominant branch with all of the processing industries located in the central district.

7The increase in industrial outputs of the forest-based activities in the river basin since 1996 was made possible through rationalisation and restructuring of the forest sector structure (Pashkevich, 2003). Although, the overall production volumes of the 1990s are noticeably lower compared with the late 1980s. Regional media and local authorities often refer to this situation as something definitely negative and that the industrialists should try to get back to previously functioning economies of scale. However, market environment unavoidably forced local producers to rationalise and adjust their outputs to the demands from international and domestic buyers. Moreover, the rationalisation was accomplished at a high price and had severe socio-economic consequences, especially for the thousands of workers who lost their jobs as many logging enterprises went bankrupt in the beginning of 1990s. Those that managed to survive are facing other sets of problems that in the presence of the state monetary support and centrally-planned economy were non-existent. One of the vital components of the present situation is that since the beginning of transition the transport expenditures were added to the overall production cost (including forest roads as links to the resources and actual delivery cost to the buyers of the raw timber), i.e. infrastructure costs were added to the enterprises costs (ibid.). The main attributes of the existing transport network within the river basin and their influence in the present production volumes will be discussed further in the following section.

Transport Networks in the River Basin

8The extensive river system made it possible to connect most peripheral timber supply areas with the manufacturing centres in AIC. This allowed taking maximum advantage of the natural water systems in order to minimise expenditures (Kortelainen, 1999). The structure and organisation of forestry and forest-based industries in Northern Dvina river basin always have been connected with the development of transport networks. During the Soviet period the river basin acted as the one-way raw material supplier to the few centrally located manufacturing industries with more than 50% of the logged timber transported along the Northern Dvina to the AIC.

9Northern Dvina continues to serve as an important route-way, both for river navigation (passenger and goods traffic) and timber transport. One of the main changes in the post-soviet utilisation of the river was the 1993 stop for free floating. The centralised decision was made in response to the growing environmental concerns of such practice. The free-floating procedures had not been properly organised. Riverbeds and riverbanks had not been cleared from loose sunken logs. Consequently, such practice became a major source of pollution in the area adding to the environmental pressures already produced by the chemical wood-processing industries. Nowadays, the timber is transported downstream by rafting companies operating in the river from the end of spring to the beginning of summer. Hence, the main log-floating season generally lasts for only three or four weeks. The major coastal port facilities are found in Arkhangelsk, near the apex of the Northern Dvina’s delta where goods is transferred between maritime and river shipping. There are several loading quays and adjacent sites for sawmills, pulp and paper mills together with timber-yards and warehouses.

10There is only one railway of regional importance – the Arkhangelsk-Karpogory line, connecting the Primorsky, Kholmogorsky and Pinezhsky districts (Figure 4 :B). Many of the forest-cutting units in the territories of Kholmogorsky and Pinezhsky first began their operations with the opening of this railroad (28 December 1975). In addition to the railway transport, there is a variable density of the road infrastructure in the river basin. The density and quality of roads in the northern districts is traditionally better than in the middle and southern parts of the region (Figure 4 :A). The most developed road systems (public and/or belonging to the military or the penal system) are in the major cities, exhibiting the highest road densities (e.g. Arkhangelsk 2.6 km/km2, Novodvinsk 1.2 km/km2). Also in the adjacent districts of Primorsky (1,683 km of roads) and Kholmogorsky (1,409 km), followed by Pinezhsky (1,325 km) and Verkhnaya Toima (1,246 km) (Goscomstat, 1998, p. 80-81). However, many of the routes are exclusively winter roads and rarely travelled during the summer months. Accordingly, winter roads provide the main means for log transport in most areas. The actual road densities and the modes of transportation established within the river basin reveal the fact that their development was neglected due to the reliance exclusively on the free-floating. Therefore, the Northern Dvina and Pinega rivers still account for the long-distance bulk transportation down to the coastal industries.

Figure 4. Railways (A) and roads (B) in the Northern Dvina basin.

Source : shape files from the BASIS database

11The exploitation of forest resources concentrated along the established transport network, which in absence of proper forest management practices and use of the clear-cutting techniques caused a decrease in quality of the resource. Therefore, the quality and physical accessibility of the forests decreased considerably and this process continues under the new market conditions. The peripheral districts still hold a significant share of the oblast’s forest resources, but new logging sites located further inland away from the previously established transport links. The main problem, how to facilitate the construction of the new forest roads, remained unsolved for most of the wood-harvesting enterprises As firms had to cope with numerous economic problems brought by the transition they lack sufficient funds to maintain the old road systems and to invest in new roads. For these reasons, forest-cutting activities will most likely continue to be located within reach of the existing railways and better-surfaced roads. This in theory should promote the introduction of better methods of sustainable forestry, by which cutover land is replanted and selective felling is practised rather than destructive clear-cutting.

12The abundance of resources and reliance on natural networks, such as rivers for transportation delayed diversification and spatial relocation of the economic activities in the peripheral districts of the river basin. Therefore, the forest-cutting activities became the predominant branch of the forest sector with no or small-scale processing activities established mostly to supply the local market. The efforts to extend transport links beyond natural river basins and existing railway and road system did not receive much attention during the Soviet era. The present development of the logging activities reveals the fact that the speed of economic recovery for at least two of six river basin districts (Kholmogorsky and Pinezhsky) can be directly connected to the presence of dense transport networks and availability of different modes of timber transportation.

13The previously established spatial and organisational framework of the forest sector is beginning to respond to the changed economic conditions, but it works only for the centrally located districts. The others urgently need to improve the road system as alternative to river transport. The detailed examination of the problems that marginal forested areas are experiencing is presented in the following section. It is clear that the market forces have created new opportunities for the marginal areas and challenged the perception of their needs and policies towards them. The further analysis of the present development of the logging activities in one of the river basin districts helps to evaluate the adjustment to the new market environment.

Forest Resources as a Source of Economic Development for the River Basin Districts

14The minor logging companies provide many examples of bottom-up planning – whereby the periphery is trying new ways to survive and yet become less dependent on a single market of the core. Being capital-poor, however, these supply regions have great difficulty in resisting the core’s efforts to dominate and exploit them. For our case study the Verkhnaya Toima district (5) was chosen and the activities (operations) of one logging company were analysed (Figure 5). There are some 24,100 people inhabiting the area with 87% of them living in the rural settlements. The district is sparsely populated with the density of population being only 1.2 persons per km2. The district holds 23% of the total Northern Dvina river basin forest resources (Layton and Pashkevich, 2003).

15Due to its remote location, the industrial utilisation of the district’s forest resources did not begin until the 1930s. Until the mid-90s, the forest resources in this area were utilised solely by the ‘Vyisky logging unit’, with a production capacity of some 324,000 m3 of timber per year. The Vyisky felled the timber during the winter and then all of it was free-floated down to Arkhangelsk during the navigation period (May-July) on the Pinega river. The logging activities were established in five permanent settlements – Severnyi, Osyatkino, Krasnaya, Lambas and Palova. Each settlement had its own runway for frequent air connections with the district’s two main settlements of Dvinskoy and Verkhnaya Toima. The map reveals minor tributary rivers, railway tracks and roads extending some 100–150 kilometres from the Northern Dvina, suggesting a 200–300 kilometre wide belt of accessible forest along the valley. Here roads follow the river on both sides above the floodplain, but there are several bridges across it as well as ferries. Beyond the watershed to the east are the headwaters of the Pinega river, where settlement and logging is more recent, penetrating some of the last virgin forest areas.

Figure 5. The Vyisky logging unit settlements on the headwaters of the Pinega River and their links with Dvinskoy.

16Since 1993, rafting has been the only method allowed for transporting the logs on the river. The consequences of this decision followed immediately with a steep decline in employment at the company with the number of workers falling in 1994 to almost half of the number in 1993. In the following two years employee numbers decreased to less than one third and in 1996 there were only 138 workers on the company’s payroll (751 workers in 1993). The unemployment brought out-migration from the district into the neighbouring Komi Republic and to the more centrally located districts within the Arkhangelsk region. Those who remained were surviving on social security benefits that were quite high and paid regularly.

17In the mid-1990s, another company named ‘Dvinles’ with its head office in Dvinskoy, expanded its logging activities by taking over several settlements of the former logging enterprise (in particular - Palova, Lambas and Krasnaya). All of their forest sites or camps had felling capacities of 50,000-100,000 m3 of timber per year, but at that time, they were barely functional. ‘Dvinles’ proved to be a more viable venture, as most of the forest utilised by the former logging enterprise was accessible from the main river. Nowadays, the ‘Dvinles’ is among the very few logging companies in the region with an annual production as high as 300,000 m3 of timber. The company maintains its present volume of production, thus providing jobs for its present c. 2,200 workers. If their dependants are included, these numbers becomes even higher and up to 3,000-4,000 people are thereby supported (Kondratev, 1998).

18Closer attention should be devoted to the company’s production cycle, as it seems to become one of the many constrains on the way to prosperity. Most of the timber can only sold during the short navigation period. The timber felled in the various sites of Lambas and Krasnaya is transported by roads and winter roads down to the settlement of Dvinskoy and then rafted to the main consumers in Arkhangelsk. Therefore, for much of the year, the company lacks the financial ability to make all of the necessary repayments when they arise. Some of the money is spent for fuel for the forest sites during the spring months of April-May otherwise the production of timber would be disrupted.

19Due to the lack of funds for the construction of new all-season forest roads during recent winters, some 80% of the timber is transported from the logging sites to the river on the frozen winter roads (resulting in their intensive usage), and only 20% is transported from April to November on the poorly maintained permanent roads. For 1999, it looked as though these proportions would be 85% and 15%, respectively. The situation was however different in the past –up until the mid-1990s, when some 40% of the timber transported from the forest sites down to the river during the four winter months of December to March and the biggest part (60%) went down by the river between April and November. The company initiated the construction of a new hard-surface road to connect Krasnaya with Dvinskoy. The road to Lambas is functioning but its construction was never completed. One of the main goals is to improve and modernise timber transportation overland. With the improvement of lorry transport it will be possible to transport all of the harvested forest resource over land.

20There is no doubt that the appearance of small businesses should be considered a positive tendency in the economy of the country, as it in general affects the quality of products. For example, many of the logging enterprises in the river basin are introducing their own sawmilling capacities and beginning to sell their products directly to buyers abroad or outside the oblast – thereby avoiding the manufactures in the AIC. Different types of self-organisation of forest sector activities are taken place within the river basin districts. Large wood-processing enterprises have established economic links with the local producers of timber in order to secure their timber supplies. Nevertheless, it is revealed that contacts are made throughout the valley (and beyond) and that distance is not so much of a barrier to contact as might have been expected. The development and maintenance of the existing transport infrastructure, as well as market adjustments will help to further the general level of interaction within and between the oblast’s centre and its peripheral districts


21Regional development of Russia’s numerous territories in the North seem to be a feature from the Soviet past rather than anything that would follow any Western models. It is true that the deep socio-economic crisis leaves very little alternative to substitute towards regional revival. Instead it utilises previously established division between main economic activities, where primary activities and further processing of the natural resources continue to dominate at least on the regional level. The inherited spatial and economic structure of the forest-based activities within the river basin being re-worked in order to cope with the conditions posed by market economy. The increased production of timber and sawn goods support this notion. Overall the core-periphery relations within the river basin have not been challenged to any great extend and logging activities on the margins continue to be economically dependent on the core. However, in the long run the existing relations will eventually be challenged.

22In any case, as a guiding principle, it seems more reasonable that marginal areas will continue to operate through economies of scale based on the raw material utilisation in the new institutional and economic context of the market economy. The present stage of their development shows that marginal areas are obviously trying to respond to the changed opportunities through the regeneration of entrepreneurial capacities establishing small and medium size enterprises. The present phase of the development in the periphery proceeds through adjustments of declining logging activities creating a competitive and modern environment that provides the basis for further diversification of peripheral local economies. The conditions and strategy for present and future development of the marginal areas are different. It is no longer a development of one area as a closed system, but the nature and terms of exchange with the rest of the economy, which continuously redefine its competitiveness. Marginal areas are changing their dependant roles and beginning to act on increasingly expanding geographical scale.

Haut de page


BASIS database (http ://, 1999-06-01

Backman, C., 1999,The Siberian Forest Sector : Challenges and Prospects”, Post-Soviet Geography and Economics, Vol. 40, No. 6, 453-469

Bradshaw, M., and Lynn, N., 1998, “Resource-Based Development in the Russian Far East : Problems and Prospects”, Geoforum, Vol. 29, No. 4, 375-392

Goskomstat Rosii, 1997, Sotsialno-economicheskoye polozhenie Arkhangelskoy oblasti v 1997. (The results of socio-economic development of the Arkhangelsk oblast in 1997). Arkhangelsky Oblastoy Comitet Gosydarstvennoy Statistiki, Arkhangelsk.

Hamilton, I., 1999, “Transformation and Space in Central and Eastern Europe” The Geographical Journal, Vol. 165, No. 2, 135-144

Kondratev, S., 1998, “Dvinles ne snizhaet ob’emy lesovyrabotki (The Dvinles keeping high production volumes)”, Pravda Severa, 28 October, 16p.

Kortelainen, J., 1999, “The river as an actor-network : the Finnish forest industry utilization of lake and river systems”, Geoforum, Vol.30, 235-247

Layton, I., and Pashkevich A., 2003, Forest-Sector Case Studies in the Barents Regions – comparisons between the Northern Dvina and the Piteå river basins. GERUM Working Report, 2003-04-10. Department of Social and Economic Geography, Umeå University, Umeå.

Pashkevich, A., 2003, “Development of the forest sector in the Arkhangelsk oblast during the transition period of the 1990s”, Fennia, Vol.181, No.1, 13-24

Staddon, C., 1999, “Localities, Natural Resources and Transition in Eastern Europe”, The Geographical Journal, Vol.165, No.2, 200-208

Haut de page


1 Transition or transition period is in this paper used as denomination of the transitional period between the Soviet economy and market economy (Hamilton, 1999).

Haut de page

Note de fin

iHaut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Albina Pashkevich, « Development of the marginal forested areas of the Russian European North  », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Espace, Société, Territoire, document 289, mis en ligne le 25 octobre 2004, consulté le 08 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Albina Pashkevich

Department of Social and Economic Geography/Spatial Modelling centre, Umeå University, SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden
Пашкевич Альбина, кан.геогр.н, факультет социальной и экономической географии/центр пространственного моделирования, Университет Умео, Швеция

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search