Staunton, June 23 – The Kremlin working with Moscow officials established a power vertical in the Russian capital already in the 1990s, long before Vladimir Putin extended it to Russia as a whole, Andrey Degtyanov says. Indeed, what occurred in that city before 2000 became a model for what happened elsewhere after that date.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the Kremlin moved to impose its total control over the capital city, replacing genuine elections with fake ones and making ever more positions appointive. It was able to do so, the regionalist writer says, because socio-economic conditions in the city remained better than they were elsewhere (region.expert/metrocolony/).
As a result, “a unique ‘social contract’ between Muscovites and the mayor’s office” arose in which the former sacrificed its freedom for stability which the latter together with the Kremlin promised to provide. But if it is easy to give up freedom for sausages, it is very difficult to get freedom back once it is surrendered.
What that meant in turn, Degyanov says, is that the city itself quickly fragmented into “a unique ‘inner metropolis’” where conditions were remarkably good under Russian conditions and “an internal periphery” consisting of those who work in support of those in the first, just like other regions of Russia are compelled to do.
The latter, which were called “worker border regions or sleeping districts” out of a sense of political correctness rapidly became “analogues to African-American ghettoes in the cities of the United States,” he continues, “nominally part of Moscow” but in fact colonies of “the internal metropolis.”
Thus, the areas around Moscow became as it were “’a third world for the Third Rome.’” Plans to renovate the city’s aging housing stock are only intensifying this division between the first world and the third all within the borders of the capital city.
The Kremlin and the mayor’s office are interested in people there “only a source of income and a cheap labor force but nothing more. That means that residents of these districts while “still nominally residents of the imperial metropolis are in fact residents of a periphery without rights.”
And that in turn means, the regionalist writer says, that “Moscow today is one of the colonial provinces of the Kremlin” different only in incomes but not in rights compared to other places in Russia further beyond the ring road.
Elsewhere, these problems have given rise to regional oppositions, but in Moscow that hasn’t happened very much because most activists there continue to focus on Russia as a whole rather than on the very real and immediate problems of their own city. But the situation in the city is changing and so a regionalist opposition may emerge even in Moscow.
Polls show that popular support for the Moscow mayor has collapsed, in large part because of unhappiness about the way he has handled the pandemic. And that anger is dividing the city between the relatively well-off imperial center and the increasingly impoverished and rightless periphery there.
In the periphery and more rarely in the center, a variety of “initiative groups” have formed to focus attention on this or that problem of the city. If Moscow regionalism does emerge, it is almost certain to come from that milieu, Degtyanov argues. And because of the peculiar nature of the city, it is likely to make some unique demands.
The most important after free elections, he suggests, will be a decentralization of the city, with the districts coming together to agree who will do what rather than having all this rammed down on them from above. That would create the basis for transforming Moscow from “’a city of federal importance’” to a Muscovite Republic.
If steps are not taken in that direction soon, Degtyanov warns in conclusion, the residents of both Moscows may soon discover that they will not only be as rightless as Russians elsewhere but as impoverished in many cases as well.