Friday, September 24, 2021

Unless Russia Decentralizes, It will Decay or Disintegrate, Zubarevich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 21 – Like other countries, Russia will be compelled to decentralize “if it wants to survive its transformation with the smallest number of phantom pains and with the greatest chance for development,” Natalya Zubarevich says. “Otherwise, with a weakening of the central authorities, there will again be a collapse, chaos and a war of all against all.”

            Indeed, the economic geographer at Moscow State University says, “a carefully thought- out decentralization is the only bloodless path” for the country to move forward. It isn’t something that will come about on its own given the country’s traditions and thus must be promoted (

            Russia has “never been a real federation,” she continues. “We are an empire which conquered space.” Other centralized countries have been the same but nonetheless have accepted decentralization as necessary, “not federalization but decentralization, that is, the transfer of authority down to the regional and local level.” Russia must follow this course as well.

            In other comments, Zubarevich says that Russia will see its life expectancy recover to where it was before the pandemic without special effort but that if it wants to boost it further, it will need to increase the incomes of the population, improve medical services, and improve the lifestyles of its population.

            She suggests that Russian officials vastly overestimate the number of migrants in the country. It is not the 12 million or more they sometimes speak of to extract more money from the Kremlin but rather 4.5 to 5 million and certainly no more than six million. Xenophobic attitudes are nonetheless growing.

            They could be overcome both by normal educational efforts to talk about other peoples and also by a policy of integration, but at present, neither of these things is on offer in Russia. Consequently, the economic geographer says, xenophobia is likely to be a major feature of Russian life for a long time to come.

            Ignorance about how many immigrants there are is part of a larger ignorance of the size and problems of the population. “There are two places in Russia where we do not know even the number of residents: at a minimum, three republics of the North Caucasus, on the one hand, and Moscow and Moscow oblast, on the other.”

            “The North Caucasus in socio-economic terrible is terra incognita,” Zubarevich argues. “We do not know even the population of the region,” at a minimum for a third of the territories of Dagehstan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.” Officials claim far more people than are there in order to get more money from the center.

            But Zubarevich expresses optimism for the future because even though Russia did not experience the embourgeoisement of urbanization of the West European kind, 23 percent of its people now live in cities of more than a million people each. That will have the same impact eventually although it will not come quickly or easily.

            Unfortunately, she concludes, Russian officials act as if nothing has changed and continue to approach the country bureaucratically rather than with a recognition of how much it has changed and how important further change is for development. They and no opposition group are the real threat to Russian development.

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