Staunton, August 14 – Soviet people joked that if you lived anywhere in the USSR there were only “three ways out” – Domodedovo, Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo – the three airports of Moscow. But it was no laughing matter that to go from one oblast to its neighbor, residents often had to fly thousands of kilometers out of their way via the capital city.
But it is not often appreciated that in the 25 years since the Soviet Union collapsed, air routes within the Russian Federation have become more rather than less focused on the capital, the result of the collapse of regional carriers, the use of private jets by elites, and the increasing centralization of Putin’s regime.
In 1990, Pavel Luzin points out, there were in fact far more airports (over 4,000 versus fewer than 990 now), fewer flights which originated or ended in Moscow (26 percent as opposed to 74 percent today), and fewer regional carrier flights (27 percent compared to under three percent now) (afterempire.info/2017/08/14/avia/).
Given the enormous distances within Russia and the absence of reliable roads and railways in many areas, a network of flights that allows people to move around the country is essential if Russia is to have any hope of developing normally. But the increasing Moscow-centricity of that network precludes such a trend.
Since Vladimir Putin became president, Luzin writes, “control over all these routes little by little has become concentrated in one center – in Moscow,” a reflection of the fact that businesses and political decisions are all based there and that except for those involved in extractive industries – who have private planes – everyone needs to be there.
Indeed, most of the remaining inter-city routes that don’t link into Moscow are serviced by much smaller planes than those which do pass through the capital; and consequently the hyper-centralization of the air network is even more extreme than even the gross statistics suggest.
For the situation to change, the analyst continues, four “fundamental” shifts are required. First, human freedom must be recognized “at the political level” as the highest value. Second, “the regulating and controlling functions of Russian power must be reduced as much as possible. Third, there must be a recognition of the importance of local administration.
And fourth, Luzin concludes, “Russian society must be opened again to the world and to itself.” Unfortunately, none of these is likely, and “the colonial model of administration” appears certain to continue for some time and perhaps even get worse, far worse in fact than in Soviet times.