Monday, January 2, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Existence of ‘Four [Differeent] Russias’ Complicates Political Struggle, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 2 – Recent public demonstrations have called attention to “the vertical division” between the powers and the people of the Russian Federation, but according to a leading Moscow analyst, an equally important division for both those in power and those who oppose them may be the existence of “four Russias,” each very different from the others.

            In an article in last Friday’s “Vedomosti,” Natalya Zubarevich, the director of regional programs at Moscow’s Independent Institute of Social Policy, describes each of these Russias and argues that relations with and among them will play a critical role in political outcomes in the coming year (

            The “first Russia” is “a country of large cities.” It includes the 12 Russian cities with a million residents or more and two just under that figure, Perm and Krasnoyarsk.  In these 14 live 21 percent of the population – or one in every five. And only in five of them – Ufa, Perm, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and Volgograd – do Soviet-era industrial enterprises still dominate.

            In the others, “a post-industrial transformation” has occurred, with this trend somewhat more pronounced in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, and Rostov and somewhat less in the others.  As a result, professionals, entrepreneurs, and white collar employees set the weather in this “first Russia.”

            Moreover, over the last decade, consumption patterns in all of these cities have approached those of Moscow even though incomes still lag in many of them. Consequently, it is now appropriate to speech of the emergence of a middle class and to note that this group forms an ever-growing fraction of the population.

            This group of cities is a magnete for migrants with “up to 80 percent” of all migration consisting of flows to and among them.  And if one adds to this Russia the population of other cities with more than 500,000, then this “Russia” includes 36 percent of the country’s population, some 51 million people.

            It is in this Russia that the 35 million domestic users of the Internet and those who want a more open society are concentrated. But what is most important, Zubarevich argues, is that it is in “the first Russia” that “protest energy arose without being stimulated by a crisis: instead of the reflexes of homo economicus have worked the mechanisms of moral alientation.”

            Thus, she writes, “in the case of a new crisis, the impact on the educated urban stratum will be strong, but mobility and a higher level of competitiveness of the residents of major cities will permit them more quickly to adapt to an unfavorable situation.”

            The “second Russia” consists of the mid-sized industrial cities of from 20,000 to 500,000 or even 700,000 in the case of Tol’yati.  “Far from all mid-sized cities have preserved an industrial specialization in the post-Soviet years,” Zubarevich notes, “but its spirit all the same is strong as is the Soviet way of life of the population.”

            Bllue collar and government employees of relatively low qualification, Zubarevich says, dominate the socio-economic scene. About 25 percent of all Russians live in this Russia, an in its “most unstable part,” the company towns, about 10 percent of the total.  (Official figures on the number of “mono-cities” are exaggerated, she explains.)

            If a new crisis occurs, this “Russia” will experience “the greatest shock,” with industrial production falling faster than other branches while “the mobility and competitiveness of the population [would be relatively] small.” If the federal budget can maintain subsidies, the regime can control the situation, but if not, then there could be a wave of populist protests.

            Many of the factories in this “second Russia” should have been closed long ago, Zubarevich says, because of low productivity, “but this was not done in the [earlier] crisis, and most probably, it will not be done in the case of another shock.  “As 2009 showed, the vlasti recognize the danger of a protest by ‘the second Russia’ and they know how to prevent it.”

            The “third Russia,” in which 38 percent of all Russians live, is “the enormous periphery of the country and consisting of residents of villages, settlements, and small cities.” It is, Zubarevich says, linked to “the land” and remains “outside of politics because the calendar of agricultural work does not depend on a change of the powers that be.”

            Consequently, its “protest potential” is “minimal” even if pensions and pay are delayed, the Moscow expert says.

            Finally, she says, there is a “fourth Russia,” consisting of the republics of the North Caucasus and the south of Siberia (Tyva and Altay).  Amounting to six percent of Russia’s population, this Russia has some cities but “almost no industrial ones.” And “the agricultural population continues to grow and is still young, although young people are moving to the cities.”

            What is important for this Russia as far as Moscow is concerned are stable flows of federal assistance and investment from the federal budget, something Vladimir Putin has pledged to do despite opposition.  But the amount of money involved is much smaller than many believe, Zubarevich says.

            She points out that “the amount of transfer payments [from Moscow] to the republics of the North Caucasus in 2010 consisted of 160 billion rubles, 10.7 percent of all transfers to the regions from the federal budget, and with Tyva and Altay added 12 percent.”  The amount the federal budget gave to Moscow for transportation problems in 2012 was twice as much.

            It is clear, Zubarevich concludes, that “sooner or later, ‘the first Russia’ will overwhelm” the others and determine political outcomes. What is not certain and what she does not say in this article is whether this will happen in 2012 – or whether operating on the others, Vladimir Putin will be able to return to the Kremlin.

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