Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Views Regions as Colonies, and Regions Should Unite against It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 9 – Moscow under the rule of Vladimir Putin increasingly views and treats Russia’s regions and republics as colonies from which it can extract ever greater amounts of money for the center’s security services and the bureaucracy at the cost of the well-being of the population as a whole, according to a leading opposition figure.

            To counter that trend, a civic activist from Kaliningrad argues, the residents of the regions and republics must come together to form a common front against Moscow rather than continue to allow the center to play one of them off against others as the Kremlin has been doing in recent years.

            And both these arguments are likely to be bolstered by a new computer program which will allow Russians to determine with remarkable precision how much money they and the residents of other federal subjects are currently sending to Moscow and how much each of them is getting back.

            In his Echo Moskvy blog today, Boris Nemtsov writes that “the credo of those in power is that Moscow is the metropolis and the regions are its colonies,” and he observes that “the result of the verticalization of power … has been theft [by the center of the resources of the regions and the cities” (echo.msk.ru/blog/nemtsov_boris/1049368-echo/).

Fifteen years ago, the federal and regional budgets split revenues “on average” about equally, but now, “the relationship between the federal and regional budgets is 62 to 38 percent.”  And many in the center are pressing to make that division even worse by cutting funds for the non-Russian republics (See regions.ru/news/2453899/.)

            Putin’s approach has had a cascading effect, the opposition leader says.  “Putin takes money from the governors, the governors take money from the municipalities, and the mayors take money from the citizens by raising rates for housing and forcing people to pay for education and health.”

            Moreover, if one excludes Moscow from the calculations, then the budgetary relations between the center and the regions is now 70 percent for the former and 20 percent for the latter, Nemtsov says.  That means that basic services like roads are in horrible condition, that poverty is rising, and the education and medicine are suffering.

            This “colonial policy,” he argues, pays for the special services, whose annual budget is equal to that for Rostov for the next 7400 years, for the armed forces, equal to that city’s spending for another 7400 years, and for the central bureaucracy, equal to Rostov’s budget for 3700 years.

            Russia must return to budgetary federalism and genuine local self-administration, he continues, or it will face the prospect of “the destruction of the country and the growth of separatism. [Indeed,] losing Siberia and the Far East is completely possible,” according to Nemtsov.

            That many in the regions feel this is reflected in the comments of Mikhail Kostyaev, a civic activist from Kaliningrad, in an interview posted on the Osobaya Bukhva portal today (

            Kostyaev argues that many in the regions are far more socially active than opposition figures in Moscow think on the basis of their counting of the number of demonstrators and members of political organizations. According to him, ever more people are involved in “everyday social and political activity” and that gives hope.

            “The opposition in Moscow talks entirely too much about its own activities,” the Kaliningrad activist says.  And consequently, the politically active populations in the regions and republics need to focus on other issues, specifically they need to develop direct” links” with one another rather than focusing all their attentions on the capital.

            To the extent they do so, Kostayev suggests, they will be able to put more pressure on Moscow and extract the kind of resources they used to get and now very much need to address both the problems of their own particular region and the problems that all regions face in dealing with the center.

            At least some in the regions and republics are likely to take advantage and be influenced by a new website which will allow them to find out just how much money they are sending to Moscow and how much they are getting back (calcsoft.ru/transportnyy-nalog-calculator; discussed and with examples at ru-nsn.livejournal.com/2720385.html).

            This site is probably intended by Moscow officials to exacerbate the competition of regions and republics for money from the center, and it will have that effect on some.  But the picture it provides about the general flow of funding almost certainly will contribute to the kind of feelings that Kostayev suggests could produce a new inter-regional group.

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