Sunday, January 15, 2017

Could a Russia of 15 Megalopolises Emerge – and Survive?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Russia is increasingly urbanizing with 40 percent of the population now living in the 15 largest agglomerations, a trend that former finance minister Andrey Kudrin says Moscow should encourage in order to improve the conditions for economic and social development.

            He argues that infrastructure, intellectual and social resources are already concentrated in these cities and that the more people live in such places, the greater Russia’s opportunities for development, especially if all of them rise to the levels of Moscow and St. Petersburg ( and

            Toward that end, Moscow must “not only support the regions” as it does now but support the cities which will become the centers of these new possibilities,” Kudrin argues.  If Moscow does nothing, urbanization will continue but it will not necessarily create the kind of urban centers that the country needs.

            Kudrin’s idea has already provoked anger on the part of some and a sense on the part of others that however good it might be in principle, it will never be realized in Russia not only because the former finance minister seems to think that it can be implemented by fiat but also because it would have extraordinarily serious consequences for the country’s survival.

            Anatoly Baranov, the editor of the communist Forum-MSK portal, says that Kudrin’s proposal would lead first to the depopulation of much of the Russian Federation and then to the loss of significant portions of it to foreign powers, including in the first instance China and Japan.

            A much better plan, he suggests, would be to develop not only all existing cities small and large but to invest in the infrastructure that would allow people in smaller cities and rural areas to move quickly back and forth between where they live and where they might work in larger urban center.

            “But such an arrangement of relations of small and large cities presuppose a high level of independence on the part of citizens, a high self-assessment of themselves, and also self-employment.” Unfortunately, “for an authoritarian regime” like the one Russia now has, “that is completely unsuitable.”  It’s easier to control impoverished urban masses than a better off country as a whole.

            Other commentators surveyed by Aleksey Verkhoyantsev of Svobodnaya pressa pointed out that Kudrin’s plan is not new. It arises from Soviet discussions about shutting down and consolidating villages and from talk within the last decade about maintaining only a small number of megalopolises

                One of these commentators, Mikhail Kuznetsov of the Plekhanov Foundation, said that it was “very doubtful” anything of the kind could be imposed or even allowed to arise. If moves were made in that direction, it would mean that those in these centers would live far better but those remaining elsewhere would live even worse than they do now.

            But there is another problem with this idea, one that has not yet provoked a reaction in the Russian media since Kudrin made his proposal at the end of last week, and that involves the impact any such plan would have on inter-ethnic relations and on the survival of the non-Russian republics.

            If Moscow sought to promote this, the new megalopolises would be even more multi-ethnic than existing cities are, and the chances for ethnic clashes would increase. And if Moscow started funding such cities at the expense of the non-Russia republics, the least the center could expect would be a new parade of sovereignties as the republics would seek to defend themselves.

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