Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Russia of the Agglomerations Would Be Even More Tightly Controlled from Moscow than the Current One, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 28 – The increasing concentration of the population of the Russian federation in 10 “super-agglomerations,” a reflection both of efforts to find work and government support for housing construction only there, will leave the country even more tightly controlled from Moscow than is the case now, Vadim Shtepa says.

            The editor of the Tallinn-based portal, Region.Expert, says that there is little reason to believe the promises of some behind this program that more taxes would remain at the level of the agglomerations than now do at the level of regions and republics and that the former would be allowed to elect their own leaders (severreal.org/a/31162378.html).

            That would be completely inconsistent with the ideas of the individual most prominently associated with the idea of a Russia of the agglomerations who, while finance minister in the first decade of Putin’s rule, worked hard to centralize tax collections and impose appointees in place of elected leaders outside of Moscow, Shtepa continues.

            “If some sort of ‘new model of a federation’ is being pushed by the current powers that be,” he suggests, “it is precisely for the convenience of centralized administration and has nothing to do with sharing power with the citizens.” That is because “the only political ‘metropolis’ as before would remain the Moscow Kremlin.”

            In many ways, Shtepa continues, this recalls the sad experience of the federal districts, which Putin imposed to help Moscow recover control of the country but which have never been included in the Constitution or played the decentralizing role that many expected at the time of their creation.

            Consequently, “if one imagines the structural transformation of the Russian Federation into six to ten gigantic agglomerations, this will lead not to the growth in them of civic self-administration but only to the doubling there of ‘the Moscow model’ with its sharp border between ‘the capital’ and ‘the provinces.’”

            And that in turn will give Moscow yet another lever to destroy all the remaining government institutions outside the agglomerations, including local self-administration and the governments of the autonomous non-Russian republics and predominantly ethnic-Russian oblasts and krays.

            Those who argue that history is moving in the direction of large cities alone are somewhat behind the curve, Shtepa suggests. In post-industrial societies, smaller centers are becoming more important because the Internet allows people to work from just about anywhere and living conditions are often far better outside of enormous metropolitan areas.

            He says he completely agrees with the view of Russian economist Vladislav Inozemtsev who has observed that “gigantic cities have appeared mostly on the global periphery” rather than at its center, thus suggesting that if Russia moves in that direction, it will be following not the leaders of development but those who are following with a lag (region.expert/inozemtsev/).

            That means that a Russia of the agglomerations will not only be more centralized and authoritarian than the country is now, Shtepa concludes, but that it will likely be setting itself up to fall further and further behind advanced countries whose most important centers of change are no longer the largest cities but places like Silicon Valley.


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