Staunton, July 31 – Many commentators have suggested that Moscow’s plan to form 41 urban agglomerations around the country by 2030 will promote the amalgamation of federal subjects, but economist Vladimir Klimanov says that the two things are not related and that the rise of agglomerations may or may not be paralleled by any new amalgamation drive.
The agglomeration program, the director of the Center for Regional Policy at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service says, is an entirely natural one given the needs of both the cities and the surrounding countryside while amalgamation is something that Moscow may or may not choose or be able to do (ura.news/articles/1036282764).
Indeed, Klimanov says, agglomerations are so natural given the transportation network of the Russian Federation that they would likely emerge without any government program at all while amalgamation of oblasts, krays, and republics can happen only if the center presses for it and overcomes the opposition of regional elites and populations.
Economists and geographers in other countries speak about “conurbations,” he continues, referring to the way in which as cities located not too far apart grow, they increasingly interact with people moving back and forth between them as well as from rural areas as transportation networks improve.
Russia has fewer options in that regard because of its underdeveloped transportation system. As a result, “the majority of [its] agglomerations will be centered on a single city” rather than the result of the fusion of several urban areas, although there will be exceptions as for example in the Kuzbass.
Where the rural population is small or distances to other cities great, there will be little movement toward agglomeration. But elsewhere, this economic arrangement will become increasingly common and will assume a political dimension given that decisions will have to be made about where to build roads and rail lines, decisions likely to be made in Moscow.
But there is one serious problem ahead, Klimanov says. Most countries see agglomerations emerge as a result of growing populations. Russia is experiencing this at a time of demographic decline. What that means is that the countryside will be emptying out into the cities, and Russians will have to decide how far they want that process to go.
Given the centralized power arrangements in Russia, the likelihood is that cities and the agglomerations they form the core of will expand rapidly and the population of smaller centers outside of them will disappear entirely. If one wants a different outcome, one must seek to install a different political system.
That doesn’t mean that the capital must be shifted out of Moscow, the economist says. Rather, it could happen if there were a movement by major corporations to put their headquarters somewhere beyond the ring road, an unlikely prospect given power relations now but not an impossible goal.