Staunton, September 10 – Vladimir Putin has regularly talked about the need to invest and develop Russia east of the Urals. Indeed, the Kremlin leader has declared that this is Russia’s “main priority in the 21st century. But the results of Sunday’s elections call attention to his failure to make much progress in that regard, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
Three of the four regions where United Russia candidates for governor failed to win outright in the first round were in that region, the Moscow economist points out. Moreover, the ruling party lost numerous mayoral posts as well as a guaranteed majority in many of the regional assemblies (echo.msk.ru/blog/v_inozemcev/2275116-echo/).
Compounding national anger at Putin’s pension plan in that enormous region, Inozemtsev continues, is the fact that nothing he or Moscow has done has “stopped the outflow of population from the region, reduced the break with neighboring China and Japan or essentially improved the quality of life of local people” – and they responded with their votes.
According to the analyst, there are two reasons for this failure and these votes. “On the one hand, ‘the turn to the East’ was forced.” It was the product of Russia’s problems in the West rather than of any calculation of economic interests in the East. And consequently, there is no Moscow policy which views the Far East as a territory “open for development.”
“The Kremlin has forgotten that the earth is round … and has been trying to find an alternative to the West in the East. But since the conflict with the West was conditioned by political factors, cooperation with the East has turned out to be extremely politicized – and therefore irrational,” Inozemtsev says.
In essence, Moscow’s policy has been reduced to expanding relations with China which is pursuing its interests in the Russian Far East rather than Russian interests or to engaging in showy actions that don’t justify the money spent on them rather than on real tasks which could have a positive impact.
“On the other hand, residents of the region ever more clearly recognize that they have become a kind of supply chain between Russia and China: beginning in 2009, in the framework of cooperation with our ‘best friend,’ have been launched numerous projects for extracting resources but not one for processing them” within the borders of Russia.
Chinese firms have cut down Russian forests “in a barbarous fashion.” Railroads have been developed only to increase the export of coal from Russia to China, and electricity is being exported to China “even below the cost of production.” None of this promotes the development of the region, but it may invest some of Putin’s cronies in Moscow.
According to Inozemtsev, “China is interested in using Russia but not in developing it: the largest industrial power of the world does not have any reason to support the establishment on its northern border of new industrial centers. As a result, today, Russian exports to China are dominated by raw materials to an even greater degree than they are to the European Union.”
If Moscow continues this approach, the economist argues, Russia “will not be able to modernize this region at any point in this century – and a recognition of this state of affairs is clearly playing into the hands of the LDPR … and the KPRF” even if neither is able to change things on the ground, at least not yet.
Of course, even the change of local leaders will hardly be able to change the overall situation, “but the causes of the failures of ‘the party of power’ in a region which is much closer to the most economically dynamic region of the world” are clear to its voters if not yet to those in power in Moscow.
“Russia thus has not turned to the East,” despite what Putin et al say. Instead, it is steering the country in the very same way in the east as it does in the west. But “now, on a ship that is proceeding in an unknown direction, the sailors are in revolt” – and that clearly is one of the most important messages of the September 9 elections.
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