Staunton, September 10 – The current Russian government has maintained itself over the last decade by exploiting the phobias of the population and especially the fear that the country will fall apart unless Moscow gains ever more power, a fear and a belief that many among the Kremlin’s political opponents clearly share.
But in today’s “Vedomosti,” Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow Center for Research on Post-Industrial Society, says that both the fears and the prescription lack any foundation and that the opposition should back a shift of power away from Moscow as the best way to victory and a better future for Russia (vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/16165291/needinaya-rossiya?full#cut).
Vladimir Putin’s whole policy is summed up in the name of the country’s ruling party, “United Russia,” Inozemtsev says, a policy that is based on cutting Russia off from the rest of the world, building a power vertical, and ensuring that money flows from the regions to the center rather than the other way around.
“Whatever mistakes the authorities commit, the Putin political elite has its own kind of indulgence” as a result: “it ‘stopped the disintegration of the country at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s.” And the regime’s opponents “however radical they may appear to themselves” routinely defer to that notion.
But according to Inozemtsev, “if the opponents of the current regime intend and a ready to destroy it, they need to de-sacralize the slogan” of United Russia which has become both “the name and ‘the trade mark’ of the current ruling party.”
Unfortunately, he continues, many opposition leaders are just as centralist as Putin and thus cannot capture the support they would get from the regions if they were to adopt a policy of “a non-united Russia.” Navalny, for example, used as his slogan: “Change Russia! Begin with Moscow!”
However, the Moscow commentator points out, “Russia has already been changed ‘beginning from the capital’” twice before: in 1917 and then in 1989-1991, “and each time such changes led to a new wave of centralization and to an ever greater break between the center and the regions.”
At present, polls show that 76 percent of Russians beyond the ring road are convinced that Moscow is getting fat at the expense of the regions. “Muscovites showed on September 8 that part of them does not trust the authorities, but can Russia be changed by the efforts of the residents of a city, the success of which depends on the preservation of the status quo?”
The only way forward for the opposition, Inozemtsev argues, is to speak on behalf of a Russia of the regions. “Non-united Russia can and must become the ideology of the opposition” because “the idea of a united Russia is already now essentially a propagandist lie” that allows the center to violate constitutional norms of all kinds.
Shifting to a regions-central approach will have at least five major advantages, he says. First, such an approach will “automatically mean an attack on the federal bureaucracy. Second, “regionalization brought to the lowest links of administration will be a most important instrument if not a synonym of the return of democracy to the country.”
Third, a regional focus will spark a new form of modernization because it will make industrial and post-industrial development more important than the continuing reliance of Moscow on the export of raw material. Fourth, it will help Russia to deal with its neighbors. Kaliningrad should have the chance to grow rather than be a place Moscow has to send money.
And fifth, and “if you will the most important,” Inozemtsev suggests, opposing the isolation, dirigisme, and hypocrisy of Moscow in this way is “almost the only thing that can unify regional activists” behind the opposition. That would help the opposition to win in 2016 and even 2018 – and ultimately benefit the residents of Moscow as well.
But because the Kremlin still plays on the fears that the country is about to fall apart, many in the opposition are unwilling to take this chance for victory. Its members fail to note, however, that suggestions that the Russian Federation will disintegrate now come more often from Moscow than from the borderlands.
“The time has come to believe in our own people, which unlike the image of it that the elites have is both wise and rational and to allow it to become a center of power, which it never has been in the history of the country.” Inozemtsev says that he is “certain that this won’t bring anything bad for Russia.”