Monday, April 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: 70 Major Russian Company Towns Dying, Moscow Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – Slightly more than one in every six Russians– some 24.5 million people—lives  in a company town facing serious economic and demographic decline, with 68 of these 799 places rated as being high risk of complete depopulation unless a new five-year government program can reverse that trend, something that most Moscow specialists judge unlikely.

            In an article on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal yesterday, Vitaly Slovetsky says that Moscow has divided these company towns, known in Russian as “monogorody” into three categories: red for the most endangers, yellow, and green.  Sixty-eight of them fall into the highest risk group (

            He cites the findings of the Moscow Center for Problem Analysis and State-Administration Projections ( that unemployment in many of these places is about 30 percent, four times the level of the country as a whole, a reflection of the general “economic degradation of contemporary Russia.”

            In some of these company towns, unemployment is much higher: In one, Yarovoye in Altay kray, no one has a job; in others, such a Fokino in Bryansk oblast, the number of working-age adults outnumbers available positions by almost three to one, forcing those who can to leave to find employment elsewhere.

            After the popular protests in Pikalevo, Moscow announced that it would assist these company towns to overcome their reliance on a single factory. Initially, the central government said it would help 335 of these places. Later, it cut that figure to 200. And more recently, the Regional Development Ministry said that assistance had gone to only three.

            Given that track record, experts with whom Slovetsky spoke are very skeptical that the problems of Russian company towns will be solved by the new five year plan. Indeed,Yevgeny Gontmakher of IMEMO said that most people in these company towns will depart and like many villages already, such places will “gradually disappear from the map of Russia.”

            That is just one of the internal migration flows that is affecting Russia’s largest cities. In addition to the movement of people south and west, reversing the pattern of the late Soviet period, ever more Russians are moving from one city to another, most intriguingly from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

            That reversal of fortune is described in a recent issue of “Obshchaya gazeta” which notes that over the past two years alone, Rosstat has found, some 100,000 Russians have moved into the northern capital, many of them directly from the southern one, Moscow (

            Indeed, in each of the last two years, more people have moved to St. Petersburg than to Moscow, something that many Russians and many specialists on Russia would have found hard to believe only a few years ago, especially so since almost a third of the immigrants to Petersburg are from Moscow.

             Among the reasons Muscovites are choosing to relocate to Petersburg is that rents are lower in the latter city, its workforce is growing, its population is less hostile to those coming from elsewhere. As one transplanted Muscovite said, “Moscow is a city where those who have come from elsewhere do not like others who have done the same.”

              Moreover, and in sharp contrast to Moscow, he added, St. Petersburgers because of their geographical location close to Finland can go abroad “literally on weekends,” something that Muscovites cannot and is a reason why some in the capital city envy those in St. Petersburg and others choose to relocate there.

               There are many reasons why Moscow is unlikely to be able to solve the problems of the company towns or be able to limit the influx of people from them and elsewhere to the major cities, but one of the most serious is the continuing collapse of Russia’s rail system, both inter-city and suburban.

               In a detailed article, commentator Dmitry Verkhoturov notes that Russians face ever greater limits on their ability to travel by train or to ship raw materials or finished goods beyond the place where they live.  As a result of this policy, he suggests, Russians have little choice but to try to live as close as possible to major markets (

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