Staunton, June 15 – Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says that Moscow’s development programs for the North Caucasus have “not brought the expected results,” a euphemistic way for saying they have failed to boost per capita GDP and incomes as well as outside investment.
In remarks this week, he said that Moscow continues to put more money into the region with little to show for it – federal spending in the North Caucasus last year was 40 percent more than the year before – and with incomes and per capita GDP in the region lagging far behind the rest of the country (apn-spb.ru/opinions/article33574.htm).
The Russian prime minister was especially critical of the fact that Russian government spending has not served as seed money and attracted private investment from the outside. In the Russian Far East, each ruble of Moscow money has generated more than 30 rubles of private investment; but in the North Caucasus, it has brought in only 50 kopecks.
Not surprisingly, neither Mishustin nor Kremlin commentators have pointed out the obvious: Moscow’s spending in the North Caucasus under Vladimir Putin’s rule has been about buying off the local elites so that they will keep quiet and deliver the support the regime needs rather than about development.
And the money that has gone into the region from Moscow has been diverted into the pockets of regional elites via corruption and spending on highly visible but economically meaningless projects that these elites can point to with pride and pocket enormous sums of money from.
Mishustin’s comment at one level is simply a recognition in diplomatic language that the Kremlin’s approach has not worked, that the economic and hence social and political situation in the North Caucasus has not been solved, and that unless something is done Moscow will have no choice but to spend ever more money and use ever more force there.
But especially if his words lead to a reconsideration of what the central government has been doing in the region, the prime minister’s remarks could be a sign that he at least is prepared to push for an alternative approach to the region, one in which economic growth rather than political loyalty alone will be the basis for cash flows from the center.
If that should prove to be the case, it would be a threat to especially corrupt regimes like Ramzan Kadyrov’s in Chechnya and might benefit the significantly less corrupt and more professional ones like those in Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
For all too obvious reasons, such a shift is unlikely; but Mishustin’s words at least open the possibility that there may now be starting a debate behind the scenes about how Moscow should approach the region, a discussion that could divide elites in Moscow as well as those in the North Caucasus.