Thursday, May 21, 2020

Moscow Exploiting Pandemic to Attack Non-Russian Republics, Sagov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – The difficulties non-Russian republics are having with the pandemic, difficulties they have in common with predominantly Russian oblasts and krays, are being used by officials and commentators in Moscow to promote the idea that the republics should be eliminated, combined with Russian regions, or put under direct federal rule, Elberd Sagov says.

            In a commentary for Portal Six, the Ingush writer says that in recent days, two themes have dominated the Russian information “space” – regional mergers and the collapse of the medical system in Daghestan. In many cases, supporters of amalgamation point to Daghestan in support of their position (коронавирусный-коллапс-региональных/#more-1197).

            “Chauvinist telegram channels now are attempting to present what is taking place in Daghestan as evidence of the complete inability of the Daghestanis to do things on their own” and to argue that “if the federal center has to interfere to correct the consequences of their failed policy, then it would be better to administer this territory directly from the center.”

            “But the truth is that the current epidemiological collapse in Daghestan is the consequence of the failure not of the republic authorities who in fact have not existed for a long time but rather of the direct administration of the Kremlin which was put in place at a minimum with the appointment of Vladimir Vasiliyev” three years ago, Sagov says. Under him, all key decisions have been made by outsiders.

            According to the Portal Six commentator, “it is obvious that he chauvinists have already lost all connection with reality” and are pushing for policies that will make a bad situation even worse.  Already they have done serious damage and all that is left in republics like Daghestan and Ingushetia are “the names and decorations.”

            Sending more Russianized non-Russians or even Russian Russians to those republics and others will only further inflame the national feelings of the local population. Such an approach will, as the current situation shows, do nothing to help improve the situation.

            If the Russian nation was not suffering demographic collapse and depopulation, Moscow might very well adopt the strategy Beijing has in the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous District in China, dispatching thousands of Russians to overwhelm the local population. But as much as it might like to, the Russian center can’t because there aren’t enough Russians.

            But it is already clear that the system of Kremlin appointees running the republics “has exhausted its possibilities” and that the problems it and not the republics have created have become “a burden on the Kremlin itself,” Sagov says, something those in the Russian capital don’t recognize because they view the North Caucasians as incompetent “’natives.’”

            “Already for two decades, the authoritarian regime has kept not only Caucasians but all Russians, regardless of whether they are ‘national’ or ‘Russian,’ from taking the kind of civic actions” needed to improve the situation. Those in office depend not on popular support but only on the backing of the Kremlin.

            That arrangement is why things are so bad as a glance across the border to Georgia shows. There the authorities are responsible to the people and things are much better as a result, Sagov continues. And that contains an important lesson: the only way for Russia to get out of its current dead end is to return to the regions “their constitutional rights and freedoms, political competition, and direct elections.”

            “Only on the basis” of such things, the commentator says, will those in office take the kind of efforts that will serve the people they are supposed to serve rather than officials far away in the Kremlin whom they now bow down to.

            Some Russian scholars are now focusing on the question of why some regional heads are effective while others are not. Two, Aleksey Sorbale and Andrey Starodubtsev, have studied that issue in the Central Federal District (outside of Moscow and Moscow Oblast) (

            While they did not examine any non-Russian republics, something they say made their analysis easier, their conclusions regarding what makes a governor successful or not are nonetheless instructive for non-Russian areas as well and explain why some are doing better while others are doing far worse.

            They identify four factors which contribute to administrative success – the governor being from the local area, serving for a long time, and having effective lobbying skills – and three that undermine that possibility – the governor is an outsider, lack of diversity in the economy and dependence on Moscow, and a governor’s lack of economic training.

            The two thus conclude that governors matter but they are far from the only factor of regional success. In large measure, those who succeed come to regions which have a stronger starting point because of economic resources and a local elite than those who run regions with weaker economies and few strong local leaders.

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