Of course, as the capital city, Moscow retains its leading position as a market for luxury goods, super-elite homes, lower level fashion, defence, lawyers and accountants (but not operations managers) for large companies, state assets and very large construction companies.
But Moscow is home to only 7% of the Russian population whereas London, for example, is home to 12% of the UK population.
Referred to as the “Venice of the North”, St. Petersburg has gained major political influence in the last decade. President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, were both born there and they both describe it as a twin capital to Moscow.
As a trading city, St. Petersburg has a well-developed infrastructure for international business, from trading banks, major customs offices and test houses, to a large and well-developed pool of English-speaking employees. The latter group, in particular, contrast favourably with their Muscovite counterparts, with realistic salaries and lower labour turnover. Gazprom, the largest company in Russia, is moving its headquarters to the city.
Other major cities
The Saratov-Engels and Volgograd-Volzhk conurbations, where the large centres of population are split between the two river banks, are amongst Russia’s top ten largest urban areas, but the individual cities are not in the top twenty.
Taking the agglomeration into account, the third largest population centre is the area around Samara, a place few foreigners recognise.
Anatoly Karlin, who blogs on Russia’s economy and demography at Sublime Oblivion, said: “While Moscow remains Eurasia’s market mecca, its increasing saturation stands in marked contrast to the exciting new opportunities opening up in the regions as the consumer revolution spreads to the Russian hinterlands”.
The provincial cities boast major industries, such as the Russian main and locally-owned supply chain for vehicle components and assembly (cars, vans, trucks, trolley buses, aeroplanes, etc) in the Volga region.
Saratov has important opto-electronic and modern petrochemical industries. TNK/BP recently refurbished its oil refinery there.
Rostov-on-Don is a major port and centre for manufacturing agricultural equipment. Russian manufacturing has increased in general, due to improved exchange rates and car scrappage schemes.
Not all of Russia is a frozen waste in the winter. The South is subtropical. The Russian elite can be found at the “Russian Riviera” around Sochi, off the Black Sea Coast. Nearby in the Caucasus Mountains, there is a long skiing season at Krasnaya Polyana and the 2014 Winter Olympics were held there. Since, a Formula One racing track will has been built to stage the annual Russian F1 races, until 2025.
Timothy Post, an American expat from Boston, who runs an internet start-up incubator called Runet Labs in the city of Krasnodar, notes that the Black Sea region is still one of the undiscovered gems of Russia. He says, “Krasnodar Krai today is the equivalent of Southern California in 1955. It has many decades of future growth and prosperity in front of it.”