Far East Russia is a vast region stretching from Bering Streight to Lake Baikal. Traditionally isolated, it relies heavily on air traffic to stay connected with the rest of the country.
As part of the plan to modernize and encourage travel to and within Russia (which includes the launch of the new Russian electronic visa for the Far East, gone live in August 2017), the government has announced a major renovation project for 40 airports serving the region. The announcement was made in early September 2019 and the works are expected to be finished by 2024.
Flying to Far East Russia: the Current Situation
A local Eastern motto goes “Moscow is far”. The Far East regions of Russia have much to offer, including undisturbed forests, rare wildlife such as bears, rendeers, tigers and leopards, and welcoming people. It doesn’t come as a surprise that both domestic and foreign tourism is on the rise. However, urban centers are very distant and often, flying can be the only option.
Although internal flights still make up most of the air traffic over the Far East, there are two major corridors channeling flights from abroad:
- The North-West direction, which includes flights from Japan and Korea to Europe.
- The North-East direction, the main route between East Asia and North America.
International travelers can enter the Far East regions from as many as 7 airports serving as entry points to the Russian Far East:
- Vladivostok International Airport (the main airport in the area) for the Primorsky Krai region
- Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport for the Primorsky Krai region
- Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport for the Sakhalin Oblast region
- Blagoveshchensk Airport for the Amur Oblast region
- Khabarovsk Novy Airport for the Khabarovsk Krai region
- Ugolny Airport (Anadyr) for the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug region
- Baikal International Airport (Ulan-Ude) for the Buryatia.
Foreign passengers will need to hold a valid Russian visa in order to enter the Russian territory. Even if you’re flying internally, you may be asked by the Russian authorities to show a travel permit that allows you to enter the Far East.
Can You Fly West from Alaska to Russia?
There are only two and a half miles separating the US territory from Russia — the distance between the US island of Little Diomede and the Russian island of Big Diomede.
Air Russia operates seasonal direct flights between Alaska and the Far East. The most trafficked route connects Anchorage, Alaska, with Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the capital of the Kamchatka peninsula. The service runs from mid-July to September. Passengers can also choose to go as far as Yakutsk, Siberia, and Vladivostok.
There are also charter flights running between Nome, Alaska, and Chukotka, Russia’s most eastern region.
Why Are Russia’s Far East Airports Being Renovated?
In September 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum. “New, modern living standards require a completely different level of mobility”, he said, “For the Far East, this is, primarily, a developed network of air transportation, affordable ticket prices for flights within the region, to Siberia, Central Russia, abroad”.
He added that the project intends to make use of “the capacities of the Far Eastern aircraft building plants in Ulan-Ude, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and Arsenyev.”
These initiatives not only mean to better connect isolated areas with major local hubs and the heart of the country but also wish to attract tourism and foreign investment to the region. Vladivostok International Airport, for example, has already seen noteworthy renovation works — including a new terminal — and can now count on foreign investment coming from Singapore.
Although Siberia and the Far East are already known for their natural beauty, they currently attract niche tourism made of trans-Siberian railway passengers and foreigners coming from Alaska for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. But the unique natural attractions of these regions grant them much greater potential. The remote Kamchatka peninsula, for example, famous for the views of its snowy volcanoes, has seen double-digit growth in foreign tourist arrivals over the course of 2017.
The Russian government hopes that the modernization of local transports will allow these majestic regions to grow in visibility and see this growth reflected on the local economy.