This is something reformers need to recognize, Luzin continues, because it means that the people in small and medium-sized cities can be its allies and that it is important to look beyond the megalopolises and “millionaire” cities because people there want the benefits where they live but feel they have to leave in hopes of finding them elsewhere.
Many Russian regionalists and other reforms assume that “only megalopolises with their agglomeration and conurbations are objectively interested in the decentralization of administration and a market economy,” while smaller cities and rural areas have no such interest. But in fact, the latter have just as great an interest as do the former, he says.
That is shown by the pattern of migration within the country over the last 20 years. Between 2000 and 2010, when incomes were rising, only about two million people a year moved. As conditions deteriorated and the government became more repressive, the number of migrants has risen to over four million a year.
That increase directly correlates, Luzin argues, “with the Kremlin’s turning away from the modernization of the country and its attempt to ‘tighten the screws.’” What is worrisome and seldom noted is that the numbers now are comparable with those in the first years after the collapse of the Soviet system.
This change in the structure of the patterns of settlement is taking place because of the choices of people themselves rather than at the direction of the authorities. And it is happening, Not as a result of economic development but rather as a result of stagnation and even the degradation of the country.”
The Kremlin has tried to resist this process because its control system requires holding people in place, but it has been overwhelmed by the actions of individual Russians who make their own choices on this most important question. The regime can’t offer people in the regions advantages and so they flee to the megalopolises.
The current regime is not ready or perhaps even able to “create conditions for free human initiative and for the development and growth of wealth,” Luzin says. It has written off most of the country as areas without prospects and people are having to respond by moving to Moscow where at least there is a chance to get some of the money it has pumped out of the regions.
“This extraordinary centralization is creating problems already for the megalopolises” and soon will for the country as a whole. These migrants upset that they had to leave their homes and not being able to achieve their goals even if they move are eventually going to present “the Kremlin with a bill.”
Of course, when they do, it is entirely possible, Luzin continues, that what they will be demanding will not be about expanding freedom. That makes decentralization and expanded economic choice and opportunity at the local level must be part of the agenda of those who want freedom and reform.
And in that pursuit, the regional analyst says, they must recognize that “small cities and settlements … are allies for such a course of modernization.” They must cease being an afterthought or ignored altogether.