Staunton, May 10 – Moscow sociologist Sergey Belanovsky, who attracted widespread notice for accurately predicting the 2011-2012 protests in Russia, says that people and officials in most Russian regions dream of gaining significant autonomy but that at present they are not thinking about independence.
His observation comes in a Facebook post that has been reposted by Novyye izvestiya which also features reactions by other experts to this idea and its possible realization (facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=657568768014119&id=100012830048721 and newizv.ru/article/general/10-05-2019/sotsiolog-rossiyskie-regiony-mechtayut-ob-avtonomii).
Preliminary data from a study Belanovsky is conducting show, he says, that “in many regions, the majority of residents support autonomy, that is, they are not for withdrawal from Russia but rather for an essential broadening of rights in the area of forming regional legislation.” Many cite the US as a model in this regard.
The sociologist says that many governors support the same goal. As a result, “a new political idea is arising, which [he says he] describes here as a logical construction and not as a political supporter or opponent.” That is the idea of a kind of governors’ party to press for greater autonomy.
“I remember a phrase from Soviet times that the authorities … could remove from his position any obkom secretary but they couldn’t remove all the secretaries of the obkoms. A similar situation has arisen today,” Belanovsky says. And that gives the governors an opening if they can come together.
The more of them who can come together and make an appeal to the center on the basis of loyalty, saying that more autonomy is needed to do what the center wants, the fewer chances there will be that the Kremlin will remove any of them. How possible such an alliance is, of course, is far from clear at least anytime soon.
Luiza Akiyeva, a Moscow political analyst, in a comment to Novyye izvestiya agrees with this logic but says that it is unlikely to happen for two reasons. On the one hand, the center retains the whip hand and needs the current high level of extraction of resources from the regions to pursue its geopolitical goals.
And on the other, she continues, the governors come out of this system typically from the center and are not very inclined to challenge Moscow individually or collectively even if changes in the direction of greater federalism are very much in their interests, the interests of their regions, and those of Russia as a whole.
Publicist Igor Stadnik agrees. He doesn’t think the governors can press this agenda on their own. They would have a chance only if there were to appear a powerful social movement from below that would allow them to argue that only the decentralization of financial and legislative power would allow them and thus Moscow to retain control of the situaiton.