Saturday, February 17, 2018

Putin Caught Between Two Russias: An Urban One Seeking Freedom and a Rural One Wanting Development, Kostikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 16 – A major problem confronting Vladimir Putin, Vyacheslav Kostikov says, is that he is president not of one country but two and two with very different needs and wants: an urban Russia that is doing relatively well and wants more freedom and a rural Russia that is lagging behind and both needs and wants development more than democracy.

            That explains much of the difficulty the Kremlin leader is facing in articulating a campaign program and in preparing his message to the Federal Assembly, the former diplomat and commentator says; and the difficulties of this division have grown over the period of his rule (

                Many of the programs that Putin has promoted have worked in the cities, Kostikov suggests, thus pushing their population in one direction; but “the carrots” he earlier employed to help the rural areas have disappeared, their populations have suffered more as a result, and their prospects have deteriorated. 

            According to Kostikov, “the country in fact is divided now into two unreal parts: the larger part is in ‘the red zone’ of under-development, and this ever more strongly influences the outcome of elections,” at least in part because polls have shown that in the most underdeveloped regions (except for the North Caucasus non-Russians) participation in voting is very low.

            The red zone, he continues, consists of the Russian North, Siberia, the Far East, and Pskov, Smolensk, Yaroslavl, and Vladimir oblasts, all of which are lagging behind the cities economically and none of which have good prospects for the future unless there is an infusion of money from outside.

            In many cases, they are underpopulated and suffering from environmental problems and from the collapse of the earlier GULAG economy which brought them development but only at the cost of any freedom. “Under conditions of a market economy, the problems of regional development and disproportions have become even more difficult” to overcome.

              But Russia must overcome these, especially in the North, Siberia and the Far East because those are where the country’s natural wealth is concentrated. These regions don’t contribute much to the national GDP except for that; but their contribution in that regard is critical to the development of everything else. They can be ignored only at the nation’s peril.

            Some in Moscow look to China for money to develop these regions; but it is far from clear, Kostikov says, that Chinese involvement would necessarily work for as opposed to against Russian national interests.  It could even come to threaten Russian control given how few Russians live in these territories – and how many Chinese live nearby.

            Putin clearly recognizes this, as he once famously remarked that “if in the near future, we do not undertake practical steps for the development of the Far East, then in a few decades, the Russian population there will speak Chinese, Japanese and Korean.” But for him, there are more immediate problems than that.

            “In Russia,” Kostikov continues, “people love to talk about the future and especially about the distant one.” That breeds all kinds of plans for that future and no action in the immediate one. The Russian people can see this; and Putin thus must find a way to address the problems of the two Russias at one and the same time, a task that is anything but easy.

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