Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Oblast Centers Now Joining Russian Villages as Places ‘Without Prospects’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 7 – At the end of the 20th century, Russians began to speak about villages as places “without prospects.” During the first decade of the 21st, some of them added to that category small cities. Now, Nadezhda Kornyeva says, it appears that at least some oblast centers are on their way to the same fate, one that will mean their slow death.

            In a comment today for Forum-MSK.org, Korneyeva draws that conclusion on the basis of what Russian Rail has done in response to protests about its plans to cut back inter-urban train service between cities and towns of the Russian Federation, protests that forced even Vladimir Putin to intervene (forum-msk.org/material/region/10898930.html).

            With the collapse of subsidies from the regions which could no longer pay them because Moscow had cut its support for the regional governments even as the center added to their responsibilities, Russian Rail either had to raise prices dramatically or cut service. It chose the latter.
            People in many places were furious because that meant they could not travel to work or even to get educations or medical care, and Putin called on Russian Rail to retreat from its earlier plans. But now, as Korneyeva reports, what has happened is the kind of sleight of hand that allows political leaders to claim they have deferred to the population without really doing so.

            As of yesterday, she reports, railroad connections between Kostroma and St. Petersburg have “in fact been liquidated.”  That has been “achieved” in the following way: Russian Rail has introduced so-called “inter-modal” service involving buses on part of the route and then not provided service unless enough tickets have been sold.

            That is a recapitulation of what Russian air carriers have done in some more distant parts of the country. They have kept planes on the ground and passengers waiting often for days until enough people have bought tickets. Only then do the planes take off and provide the services they are supposed to.

            When Kostroma residents try to buy tickets online, they are informed by the site that “in the car you have chosen, it is impossible to make an order since the necessary quantity of places for sale is lacking.” If they call the Railways’ hotline, they get a further runaround, and they are told to stand in line and buy intermodal tickets.

            “In practice,” Korneyeva says, “such a situation will inevitably lead to the liquidation” of even the intermodal service in the relatively short term, and that in turn will cut off Kostroma from St. Petersburg and the wider world for most of the oblast center’s residents, prompting “the most active” people there to leave and the city to decay.

            There are possible solutions, she argues, but the authorities seem uninterested, and she adds that “it is indicative that ‘the closure’ of Kostroma by the leadership of Russian Railways is taking place on the eve of the elections of a governor and deputies of the oblast duma and is being carried out despite massive opposition by the population and even by the authorities.”

            That shows how much contempt the powers in Moscow have for the people of Kostroma and other regional capitals and how little confidence the people in those cities and elsewhere can have in the current rulers in the Russian capital.


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