Saturday, November 24, 2018

20th Century ‘Interred’ Russia’s Villages; 21st Will Kill Off Most of Its Smaller Cities, Limonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Despite all the talk of developing new agglomerations to drive Russian innovation and growth, specialists on cities and regional development say, Russia has only one real agglomeration now and is unlikely to develop even a single additional one in the coming years.

            The reasons, as they pointed out at a meeting in Yekaterinburg this week are rooted in demographic decline, the hypercentralization of the state, and the absence of opportunity for cities and businesses to make their own choices or develop the networks and infrastructure necessary for such places.

            Consequently, the scholars and analysts from across the country were unanimous that all of Moscow’s talk about making agglomerations the centerpiece of Russian development in the coming decades is at best empty and at worst self-deceiving (

            Instead of talking about what will never be unless there are fundamental changes, they say, Russians should be focusing on what they are about to lose. According to Leonid Limonov of St. Petersburg’s Leontyev Center, of the roughly 1100 mid-sized Russian cities in existence now, only about 150 are more or less flourishing. The remainder are gradually dying.

            And the ones that are doing more or less well, the analyst says, are those which are located close to major cities and industrial centers, near the border of the country, or have “God-given” natural resources, not because of government policy.  Any city lacking at least one of these is condemned to “a gradual but inexorable withering away.”

            In fact, Limonov says, just as the 20th century put the Russian village in its grave, so “the 21st century will wipe from the face of the earth ‘useless’ settlements and small cities.” Russia will thus be returned to what it was centuries ago, an enormous empty “plain” with only a tiny number of “hearths of activity.”

            Natalya Trunova, a specialist on spatial development at the Moscow Center for Strategic Planning, is even more bleak. “Today,” she told the Yekaterinburg meeting, “there are 145 million of us. Fifteen years from now, given technology, the raw materials economy will need no more than 50 million.”

            That will drive what people may choose to call “the development of Russia,” not strategic planning documents that have no positive real-world consequences but simply bleed off resources into the hands of the elite as a result of the power vertical’s preference for “giant projects” that most assuredly are a bridge to nowhere. 

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