Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Moscow’s New Monitoring System in Regions Unlikely to Make Kremlin More Responsive, Nikolay Petrov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 15 -- For the second year in a row, Nikolay Petrov says, Russia is “living in an era of double transformation, political and administrative.” The first, including amending the constitution, has received a great deal of attention; the second, despite its impact on the system, has largely remained “in the shadows.”

            But one part of this administrative transformation, the head of the Moscow Center for Political-Geographic Research, has recently attracted more attention, even though in the end, it does not appear that it will have all the consequences that some hope for and others fear (

            This transformation involves the creation over the last 14 months of Centers for Administration of the Regions, bodies located in the federal subjects and intended to monitor the population’s attitudes and reactions to events but that are controlled not by governors who have a vested interest in keeping bad news from reaching Moscow but by the center itself.

            According to Petrov, these offices are “to collect and process in an operational way difficult questions of residents in all aspects of the life of the region, prepare analytic materials on the socio-economic situation and work up proposals for further development.”

Governors naturally fear this information will be used against them, the Moscow analyst says. But they are likely wrong at least for the system as a whole because the Kremlin and the government in general prefers to rely on statistics rather than data based on declarations by Russians and because in the absence of democracy, Moscow won’t be under pressure to change.

The new system will send an enormous amount of data to the center, but it is uncertain how much of it will be used except selectively to provide evidence for what Moscow had already decided it wants. “Earlier Putin relied on public complaint books,” a reflection of his “KGB experience.”

In that experience, officials open complaint books, people write them down, and then the organs send them to the center. But Petrov points out, “today this doesn’t work. On the other hand, social networks do provide a place from which by using special algorithms it is possible to collect needed information.”

The Russian analyst argues that the most important thing the creation of these bodies signals is the fact that officials in the center are aware of how angry the Russian people are at them. But without the ability to choose among competing candidates in elections, the people no matter how angry aren’t likely to have all that much impact.

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