Staunton, September 25 – Russia cannot be understood as a single whole, according to Natalya Zubarevich, but only as four different Russias whose increasingly different situations are pushing them in four different directions, a pattern that is often obscured by the use of data sets for the country as a whole.
In yesterday’s “Vedomosti,” Zubarevich who heads the regional studies program at the Moscow Independent Institute for Social Policy, says that recent developments, including the elections, only highlight these differences for those who are attentive to them (vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/16681621/chetyre-rossii-chto-dalshe?full#cut).(Zubarevich has been working on this idea for some time. For a discussion of her earlier conceptualization of “the four Russias,” see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2012/01/window-on-eurasia-existence-of-four.html for January 2, 2012.)
The Russian Federation is divided into four distinctive Russias, she suggests, three of about equal size in terms of population and one, much smaller, consisting of the most underdeveloped non-Russian republics. For clarity, she calls these Russia-1, Russia-2, Russia-3 and Russia-4
The first consists of the centers, “the more modernized population of the largest cities.” The second, or “semi-periphery,” includes the residents of large and mid-sized cities where “Soviet values predominate.” The third is the real “periphery,” “the traditionalist and passive population of small cities and villages.” And the fourth is made up of the less developed non-Russian republics.
These four Russias have existed for some time, Zubarevich says, and even though some factors are changing their relative size and characteristics at the margins, others are intensifying these distinctions, a trend that she argues will be increasingly important for the country as a whole in the years ahead.
Among the country-wide factors having that impact, the Moscow scholar points to five. First, because of the low birthrates in the 1990s, the number of young people who are likely to protest has fallen fastest in Russia-2 and Russia-2. In Russia-1, the decline in young people born there has been compensated by migrants. In Russia-4, birthrates have remained higher.
Second, economic stagnation has hit some regions such as the North West and Siberia far harder than others. Third, budgets for regional governments have declined, with two-thirds of the regions now running deficits. Even if the regions kept more of the money generated in them, they would still be in trouble.
Fourth, government employment is falling especially in Russia-3 and in parts of Russia-2 even though it remains high in Russia-1 and Russia-4. And fifth, the Internet which already dominates the media scene in Russia-1 is increasingly important in Russia-2, a development that affects the protest potential of the latter.
The recent round of elections, Zubarevich says, shows how these factors play out depending on the presence of other characteristics. Where attractive opposition figures emerge or where the regional governments are incompetent and disliked, the possibilities for demonstrations and electoral mobilization are great.
Such mobilization, she suggests, is especially great when there is “a strong regional identity” as in the Urals, Siberia and parts of the Far East or where there is a clearly expressed city identity as in Yekaterinburg and Nobosibirsk. It is also more likely where the electorate is more educated, has more contacts with the external world, and has experienced industrialization more recently. All such places gave lower than country-wide averages of support for Putin.
At the other end of the scale is Russia-3 and in part Russia-4, “the more agrarian south which is focused on support for stability and the existing authorities.”
In the major cities of Russia-1, Zubarevich continues, “political changes are possible” only if all these factors come together. “but in all of the largest cities, albeit at different speeds, self-organization ‘from below’ is growing because modernized human capital is concentrated in them.”
In Russia-2, tensions are growing, but any explosion or “bunt” is less likely to lead to change because of “the low potential for self-organization of the population of the industrial cities.” Consequently, while these places will continue to bubble with problems, they are less of a threat to the regime than is Russia-1.
“In Russia-3,” she argues, “everything will be quiet as a cemetery except for outbursts of local conflicts in places where migrants from the republics of the North Caucasus are concentrated.” Such clashes can be managed through the usual policies of “carrots and sticks,” the Moscow analyst says.
And in Russia-4, which is undergoing both modernization and a retreat into the past as manifested in religious conflicts, tensions are growing as well, much as they did in “’Russian’ Russia” at the beginning of the 20th century. But “it is difficult to predict” where this Russia is in fact going.
Zubarevich concludes by arguing that the central government needs to sponsor decentralization, even though such a policy will inevitably lead to the growth of “territorial inequality and a mosaic-like pattern. “ Only such an approach will allow for modernization without disintegration, however counter-intuitive that may seem to some at the center.