Sunday, November 19, 2023

Real Politics Exists in Some Russian Regions but in Far from All, Verkhoturov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 17 – Observers are accustomed to speaking of politics in the regions, Dmitry Verkhoturov says; but real politics now exists only in a limited number of them -- those whose residents are committed to remaining where they are, have concerns about many issues, and aren’t just trying to acquire enough money to flee to somewhere else.

            In all too many Russian regions, including those in Siberia, there is only one interest and that is in acquiring money and moving on, the Siberian commentator says. Because there is only that one interest and no other, there is no possibility for politics in the normal sense to develop as one might expect (

            According to Verkhoturov, the original and true meaning of politics is “a struggle among multiples interests which takes the form of heated disputes, including the public form of incendiary speeches, electoral battles, and on occasion even to various kinds of coups,” where backers of one side of an issue take power from those who support the other.

            But in region after region in the Russian Federation, there is “essentially only one interest” – getting as many resources as one can and then leaving – an interest that is shared by the population as well as the elites. That precludes genuine politics regardless of what Moscow chooses to do.

            However, genuine politics in the regions is possible and exists in places like Moscow, Chechnya, Tatarstan, Sakha, the Yamalo-Nenets AD, “and in some other regions.” There, groups identify with the region and struggle over issues that will define its future because they expect to live there.

            What these reflections mean, Verkhoturov says, is that “politics in the regions requires a certain more or less established regional identity, that is, the presence of quite a number of people who for various reasons consider the region to be theirs, do not want to leave and therefore have various local interests.”

            Where that is true, there will be politics, even if it takes place behind the scenes; where that is not the case, there won’t be anything worthy of the name.

            That perhaps explains why ethnic minorities who long identify with a place are more likely to create the conditions for real politics than are members of the Russian majority who identify in many cases not with regions but rather with the country as a whole. Verkhoturov does not address that possibility, but it is certainly suggested by his analysis.

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