Staunton, July 3 – The failure of Russians to react at all to Vladimir Putin’s imposition of governors on their country’s regions shows, Vladislav Inozemtsev says, that “the destruction of Russian federalism has been successfully completed” and that the diverse country “has been transformed into a unitary empire.”
What has happened, the Moscow commentator says, “corresponds to the principle of ‘the power vertical,’ but such a system remains operational only as long as the powers are in firm control and prepared not only to run the regions but also to ensure their success.” In the event of a crisis, that is “called into question” (snob.ru/selected/entry/94765).
“Today,” he continues, “Russia is not a country working as a single healthy economic organism. Rather is an archipelago consisting of ‘islands of well-being’ on a swamp of undeveloped territory.” As a result, in 2013, the difference among the regions in terms of economic development is eight times greater than the variation among the US states.”
The Kremlin’s entire approach is “directed at the intensification of its control over the regions” In the US, there are on average 19 federal employees in each state relative to every 100 who work for the state government. In Russia’s regions, in contrast, there are 230 federal employees relative to every 100 regional ones.
The regions in turn have taken control of cities and districts with the result that the latter lack the resources to carry out any policies of their own. Instead, they “stand with outstretched hands” to get assistance from Moscow, something “especially impressive if one considers that the center in practice doesn’t create anything.”
As long as the center has money to put in the outstretched hands of the regions, “the situation remains under control, but everything can change. The country’s economy has taken on an ever clearer rentier character. If in 1986, oil and gas formed 36 percent of the country’s exports, in 2014, their share had risen to 67.8 percent – or “almost double.”
And despite provisions in the 1993 Constitution, almost all this money – some 99.3 percent – go to Moscow which then decides how much to give back to the regions. Siberia has been a particular victim of this and for a long time. In 1897, its population was 7.5 percent of the country’s. It accounted for 19 percent of the exports, even though it formed 52 percent of the territory.
By 1985, these figures were 10.5 percent, 46 percent, and 57 percent respectively. Today, Inozemtsev points out, they are 20.2 percent, 75 percent, and 78 percent. That trend makes Moscow’s treatment of that region as a colony, as the oblastniki theorists pointed out more than a century ago, ever more obvious.
“Present-day Russia if it really wants to be a significant power on the geopolitical map of the 21st century must rethink its federative nature and offer the regions more significant rights in order to avoid the dangerous situation in which the regions themselves could demand these rights” as they likely would if the economy deteriorates further.
Inozemtsev urges that Moscow take three steps. First, he says, the country must decentralize and regions must be able to adapt to local conditions. That will make Russia stronger and less at risk of collapse in the event of a time of troubles. Second, there should be a division of taxing authority so that the regions can keep more of what they produce.
And third, he says, the regions and municipalities should be given a key role in developing and implementing a strategy for making better use of the country’s enormous space. Now, they are simply viewed at best as agents of Moscow, but the only way to have real development across the country is for there to be multiple decision-making centers.
When listening to the continuing debates about whether Russia should orient itself toward the West or toward the East, Inozemtsev says, one wants to cry out: the country needs to focus on itself. Russia doesn’t need the Donbas, but it does need the Urals; and it should be concerned about arranging things so that Russia has a chance to keep them.
Indeed, he concludes, “if Moscow does not want to turn into an insignificant city located somewhere to the west of Siberia – as Lisbon was transformed into a small city on the edge of the ocean separating it from the megalopolises of Sao Paolo and Rio which have grown up on what were once Portuguese lands – it is time for the powers that be to reflect about transforming Russia into a contemporary and competitive federation.”