Staunton, January 28 – In his online address to the Davos Conference, Vladimir Putin said that growing inequality of incomes and wealth among and within countries is generating ethnic and religious strife. What was striking in his remarks is that his recipe for the world and his policies at home are completely at odds.
Internationally, the Kremlin leader called for the rejection of any common model or single center of power; but at home, as regionalist writer Vadim Shtepa points out, Putin continues to push centralization and homogeneity (nazaccent.ru/content/34995-putin-imushestvennoe-neravenstvo-porozhdaet-nacionalnuyu-i.html and region.expert/multi/).
There is no question, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says, that growing economic inequality can exacerbate ethnic and religious feelings; but “you can’t teach the world ‘multi-polarity’ if in your own country you are destroying it.” And that is exactly the goal Putin has been pursuing over the course of his 20 years in power.
Indeed, it is obvious that the Kremlin leader does not have “the moral right to call for the rest of the world to become ‘multi-polar’ and diverse” given that “in his own country, he has built a harsh centralized ‘vertical’” one that exacerbates income differentiation among regions because it does not allow them to develop on their own.
Not only does Moscow take almost all the taxes collected and then hands back a small portion of them at its own discretion, but it works hard to ensure that regions and republics within the Russian Federation will not be able to develop relations with each other and the outside world that would benefit them.
Thirty years ago, cultural specialist Mikhail Epshteyn called attention to this underlying conflict in an essay that Region.Expert recently reposted (region.expert/o-rossiyah/). In it, he asked, “Can Estonia deal with a Baltic-Black Sea-Pacific Ocean Russia given its current size?” That would be like something out of Gulliver’s encounters with the pygmies.
But Estonia would clearly be able to deal with the smaller Russias embodied in Pskov and St. Petersburg; and both sides would benefit, one by gaining new markets and the other by acquiring new models. But Moscow under Putin continues to do everything it can to block such ties and such exchanges.
“The entire foreign policy of Russia is defined in the Moscow foreign ministry alone,” Shtepa says. “And yet, the individual who has established in his own country absolute centralism now is teaching the rest of the world about ‘multiplicity.’ He clearly doesn’t understand that his declarations sound funny” to any who know what he has been doing at home.