Monday, May 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Two Russias – Moscow and the Rest – Once Again Eye Each Other Warily

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – The idea that “Moscow is not Russia” has long been a commonplace among both residents of the capital and residents of the portions of Russia beyond the ring road, but the two are increasingly dissimilar, raising the possibility that a conflict between the capital and the rest of the country could emerge.

            In an essay on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal, commentator Andrey Ivanov says that “the two Russias” have never been as different from one another as they are today and interviews two experts about the meaning of this growing divide and the possibility that it will lead to conflict (

            Those questions are prompted by Russian history, Ivanov suggests, because at the end of the Imperial period there were also two Russias. “One spoke French, read books and discussed novels. The other was illiterate and deep in poverty. This ended in 1917 when one Russia simply destroyed the other.”

            Mikhail Remizov, the director of the Moscow Institute of National Strategy, says that the current differences between the two Russias is “a very important indicator of social inequality in the country” and that it could be overcome only with significant investments in infrastructure outside the capital, a change in the tax system to give the regions more funds, and a redistribution of workplaces to reduce unemployment there, especially in Central Russia.

            While the gap between Moscow and the regions continues to grow and tensions mount, Remizov continues, the conflict between the two Russias still has “an inert character,” one that means the resistance of the regions is likely to take the form of “dying off” and “emptying out” rather than resistance, a pattern that he suggests is in many ways “much worse.”

            Dmitry Zhuravlyev, the director of the Moscow Institute of Regional Problems, agreed that the idea that Moscow and the rest of Russia were “two different countries” had existed for a long time. “Moscow is not Russia,” he says, largely because “we have a feudal type of state” in which “the source of capital is the state” rather than the marketplace.

             Because of rising transportation costs, ever fewer people in the regions have even been to the capital and so make comparisons between it and themselves on the basis of the media. For “hatred to Muscovites” to become a political force, he says, people in the regions would have to feel that the state could not punish them and that they are united. Neither of which is true today.

            He argues that the way to overcome this divide is to change the tax system so that more money will be available to the regions and municipalities who can then meet their responsibilities and ensure that there is more social mobility. But at present, he implies, there seems little chance of that.

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