Monday, September 6, 2021

Shoygu’s Plan for New Cities East of the Urals Possible Only if Unpopular Soviet Methods are Revived, Sitnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 6 – New cities arise only under two conditions, Aleksandr Sitnikov says. Either there is an economic basis for them or there is compulsion by the state. When they appear for economic reasons, they are likely to flourish; but when they are ordered to do so, they die off when those giving the orders pass from the scene.

            That reflection is prompted, the Svobodnaya pressa commentator says, by reaction to Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s proposal to new cities east of the Urals. In almost no case is there an economic basis for such cities or any businesses ready to take the lead. And that means they will appear only if there is compulsion (

            As a result, Moscow will be able to implement Shoygu’s plan only by means of “yet another unpopular reform,” one that will force young Russians to go there to work and lead to failure as these people will leave as soon as they can at rates and numbers even larger than was the case at the end of Soviet times.

            In Soviet times, school graduates were assigned workplaces, often far from where they wanted to be. They had no choice, but they also weren’t that opposed because under Soviet conditions, life in some of the new cities established in this way was “almost indistinguishable” from life in Moscow as far as pay and benefits were concerned.

            But despite that, many who were sent there didn’t want to remain; and their opposition led to three outcomes. Many left as soon as they could to go back to Moscow or other older urban centers, the government had to stop imposing real penalties on those who did so, and the new cities more or less rapidly declined in size.

            Gosplan continued to give orders as Shoygu apparently would like to see something like that do again; but Russians voted with their feet and “new construction projects,” so much a part of the Soviet scene under Stalin, “died out” under his successors. And there is reason to think that this trajectory will be followed even faster now than it was in Soviet times.

            Young Russians can earn far more in Moscow or other metropolises than they can in any new cities, except those where natural resources are being extracted for export. And so if Moscow wants to hold them, the center will have to increase both subsidies, something beyond its means, and repression, something that will make the regime increasingly unpopular.

            The Putin regime will undoubtedly try to use subsidies first, but “this can’t go on for long.” And so it will have to either scrap plans for these new cities or impose a Soviet-style system of directing graduates to wherever the state wants, something that will infuriate young people and also their parents.

            According to Sitnikov, “it is unlikely that a significant portion of society would like such an innovation,” and because it wouldn’t, it seems likely as well that the Kremlin won’t want to try to impose it during this period of transit. Thus, all Shoygu’s talk about new cities is likely to come to nothing, unless there is a far more authoritarian dictator waiting in the wings.

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