Saturday, November 19, 2016

Russian Regions Must Now Navigate between ‘Scylla’ of Cutting Social Spending and ‘Charybdis’ of Protests, Zubarevich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 19 – In a lecture on how Russia’s regions are surviving the crisis, Natalya Zubarevich says there is a dollop of good news: for all the talk of standardization and a single power vertical, the regions are displaying one of the most important aspects of federalism: a differentiated approach to the problems that the crisis has created or exacerbated.

            The director of regional programs at Moscow’s Independent Institute for Social Policy and a leading Russian experts on the region says that unfortunately this positive news has been overwhelmed by the general impact of the crisis (

            Because of differences in resources, political leadership and relationships with Moscow, Russia’s regions have varied widely in response to all the earlier post-Soviet crises as well, she points out. But their continuing variation may surprise some given the efforts Vladimir Putin has made to standardize them via his much-ballyhooed power vertical.

            Now, however, because they are running out of money and have few places to get more, the leaders of the regions are having to balance the need to cut social spending with the risk of sparking protests if they go too far, and in navigating this “Scylla and Charybdis,” Zubarevich says, it is likely that some regions will err in one direction and tohers in different ones.

            Making those choices will be even more difficult because in the face a new plunge in the total number of Russians, some regions are going to lose more than others, and because given that defense spending may ultimately have to be cut, those regions which rely on that now are going to see their economic situation deteriorate still further.

            No longer able to count on oil as a source of income for the state, Moscow is increasingly trying to extract resources from the only other immediately available source, the population itself, by cutting social spending and increasing taxes and user fees of one kind or another, the regional expert points out.

            The regions can be counted on to vary in their responses to this, she says, and in her long speech, she provides the kind of data about incomes, investment, and resources that the leaders of Russia’s regions are going to hve to work with in what are certain to be difficult times over the next several years.

            And that in turn means that over the course of this period some regions are likely going to be the site of protests while others will appear to be quiescent.

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