Staunton, November 25 – The Kremlin can always be counted on to focus on Moscow and the other metropolises of the Russian Federation, and there is a large group of writers who will not let anyone forget about the villages from which most Russians spring. But the country’s small cities, where about 40 million Russians live, have neither the one nor the other.
As a result, Moscow’s policies are destroying what were only a few decades ago one of the most dynamic parts of the Soviet economy and key players in the promotion of the security of the USSR because they represented a link between the villages and the country as a whole, Valery Kirillov says (sovross.ru/articles/2054/50301).
Life in these smaller cities was slower and more relaxed than in the big cities, the Russian writer who grew up in one of them says. People retained their ties with villages and even raised some of their own food. And “none of [his] friends ever said: ‘I want to be a millionaire or a manager or ‘a rock star.’” They wanted to be engineers, teachers, doctors or officers.
But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the basis for the existence of many of these cities disappeared under the impact of economic policies which concentrated production in a few places and left the remainder to decay and die without the attention that bigger cities and smaller villages have received.
According to experts, Kirillov says, “almost 60 percent of their population is below the poverty line. Ten percent of the small cities are on the brink of collapse, and the remainder continue to degrade and die off.” There are many reasons for this, he continues; but two are especially serious.
On the one hand, Moscow no longer views these places as its allies in promoting the economy and holding the country together and so does not provide the kind of assistance that they need. And on the other, the officials the center inserts to run them have no incentive to develop the economies of these places so that more can be done.
The extent of underfunding is obvious. Local self-administration in Russia currently gets about 3.5 percent of the state budget whereas in Europe, it receives 80 percent – and in the Soviet Union toward the end, this element of government received 50 percent. And that is only exacerbated by the lack of incentives among officials to promote growth.
According to Kirillov, if current spending on governance in small cities continues at current rates, figures from Tver Oblast show, it will take 700 years to replace the electrical network, 150 years to replace the existing roads, and more than 150 years to replace communal networks.
What this means, the writer concludes, is that “the Russian provinces will continue to be in a depressed state, something which is especially dangerous at a time when the issue of national survival has sharpened” with other countries challenging Russia’s ability to defend its territorial integrity.