Staunton, March 31 – The inability of the Kremlin to respond adequately to the pandemic that is forcing the regions to take actions in unprecedented ways, the anger in regions that people fleeing from the cities to rural areas are spreading the virus to them, and fears that Moscow will respond all this with more repression is sparking what some now call “coronavirus regionalism.”
Moscow’s slowness in reaction to the pandemic has forced regions into areas they have never ventured before with a third unilaterally delaying the Russian draft (ura.news/news/1052425255) or restricting sale of alcohol (https://meduza.io/news/2020/03/31/v-rossiyskih-regionah-nachali-ogranichivat-prodazhu-alkogolya) -- not to mention Chechnya’s cutting itself off from the the rest of the country.
What is striking, opposition politician Sergey Udaltsov says, is the absence of federal reaction to any of these steps. The regions are on their own, and they feel themselves on their own, he says. That will only encourage some of them to take additional steps that may go far beyond fighting the pandemic (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/2616505-echo/).
Konstantin Sonin, who teaches at the Higher School of Economics and the University of Chicago, agrees, arguing that this shift from central governments to regions is happening elsewhere, including the United States (msk.ru/blog/ksonin/2615475-echo/). And opposition politician Leonid Gozman even speaks of this process as leading to “the death of law and the disintegration of the state” (echo.msk.ru/blog/leonid_gozman/2615433-echo/).
A second cause behind the new regionalism in the coronavirus pandemic is the awareness many outside the ring road have that Moscow is “the main distributor” of the virus and that Muscovites must be blocked from coming to the regions and spreading it (region.expert/ryazan/ and region.expert/moscorona/).
In many cases, people in the region are enraged that people in the cities feel free to flee into their backyards when the pandemic hits the cities but otherwise show no concern for the regions. This is further exacerbating the always strong hostility to Muscovites and other big city residents (severreal.org/a/30517583.html and gorod-812.ru/priezzhayut-iz-stolits-i-privozyat-zarazu-provintsialnyie-hroniki/
And yet a third cause of what commentator Igor Yakovenko calls “the parade of coronavirus sovereignties” is that people in the regions are trying to take as much as they can knowing that Moscow will use the only tool it has confidence in – greater repression – to try to take these things back once it feels itself in a position to do so (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5E84A7C207DA0).
Regionalist writer Vadim Sidorov is among those who have christened this trend as “coronavirus regionalism” and argued that even when the pandemic passes, the relationship between Moscow and the regions will have changed in potentially irreversible and possibly explosive ways (region.expert/saakashvili/).
Like the others, he draws parallels with the earlier parade of sovereignties that did not lead to the institutionalization of federalism in the RSFSR but rather to the disintegration of the USSR 30 years ago. And Moscow’s likely response to the new parade, as long as Putin is in power, is thus certain to be repressive. But that response may prove counterproductive.