Vienna, October 26 – After almost eight years in office, President Vladimir Putin presides over a Russian Federation that is not at any immediate risk of disintegrating into a number of smaller states but at the same time one that is not integrating into a single national whole, according to a Moscow specialist on regional affairs.
Instead, Rostislav Turovskiy argues in an essay entitled “Regional Economies and Regional Separatism” posted online today, the country exists in a state of “semi-disintegration,” one in which the central government can continue to function but at the price of “not being very effective” (http://www.politcom.ru/article.php?id=5246).
According to Turovskiy, “the main feature of the regional development of contemporary Russia” is the gulf between Moscow and the regions and “the radical contradiction between capital cities and [their] peripheries” not only at the countrywide level but also within each of the federal subdivisions.
And as a result of the failure of the central government to focus on this problem and to take effective measures, there has been an increase in “the cultural-political distance between the core part of the Russian state and center ethnic peripheries” and between European Russia and Siberia and the Far East.
In both cases, the Moscow analyst continues, the Kremlin under Putin has adopted the same strategy, re-absorbing as much power as possible over decision making and imposing governors who are loyal to the institution that appointed them but not really to any national vision beyond that.
In the short term, this policy of the center, Turovskiy continues, has allowed Moscow to “consolidate regional elites around it” but that achievement does not mean that the center has “integrated” the regions into a single country And that shortcoming is something he says that the central authorities seem almost oblivious to.
They have not sought in any serious way to reduce the enormous differences in incomes among or within the regions. They have not tried to build the kind of transportation and communication networks that could tie the country together. And they have not tried to mobilize the population as opposed to the elites.
As long as the population remains relatively passive, this approach is likely to appear relatively successful at least in allowing the country to escape from the threats and traumas of 15 years ago. But it is not, Turovskiy insists, a strategy that will be effective for much longer.
The personalization of power relations underlying it simultaneously allows each of the regions to develop or not develop in its own ways, often increasingly independent of Moscow’s policies de facto if not de jure – at least as long as its leaders demonstrate sufficiently often that they are loyal to the Kremlin.
But that situation will inevitably and ultimately break down, Turovskiy concludes, for one of two reasons. On the one hand, the continuation of this state of “semi-disintegration” will make it impossible for the country to respond appropriately as a single entity to many of the most pressing tasks economic and political.
And on the other, at some point, some political leaders either in the regions or in Moscow will be able to rouse the population from its current passivity, and when that happens, Turovskiy suggests, “this can be a very serious threat for the center,” regardless of whether the borders change or not.
Although Turovskiy does not cite them as evidence, three under-the-radar-screen developments in Russia’s regions over the last week indicate that such dangers may be on the rise, and two high-level ones in Moscow suggest that at least some in the Russian capital are looking beyond Putin to design a system to address them.
First, sixteen regions have rejected Moscow’s program on the resettlement of compatriots from abroad, 14 by simply indicating that they had not interest in a program that the Kremlin has declared one of its highest priorities and two by saying that they would develop their own programs (http://www.gzt.ru/society/2007/10/23/220035.html).
Second, a group identifying itself as the Underground Government of the Far Eastern Republic (FER) has announced plans to commemorate that entities illegal occupation by the Russian Federation by among other things refusing to participate in the upcoming RF Duma elections (http://novostivl.ru/msg/?id=1185).
The group says that it hopes “in the nearest future” to restore by peaceful means “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the FER. Its leader said that the members of the group were “not afraid of being accused of separatism. And as to criminal persecution,” it continues, “in the history of our movement, this has already happened.”
And third, the Pomors, a sub-group of the Russian ethnos, organized its own inter-regional congress, even though there are only 6571 of them according to the 2002 census. The meeting called on Moscow to “insure that [they have] the same rights as [other] numerically small peoples (http://www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=173884).
Similar expressions of increased public participation have been reported elsewhere, but the two responses by senior officials in Moscow almost certainly will prove to be more significant for the country’s political development, at least in the short and medium term.
On the one hand, Modest Kolerov, who had responsibilities for Moscow’s policies toward CIS and Baltic countries as well as for youth affairs and had a reputation for being willing to experiment with new ideas changed jobs. Known as “the gray cardinal” for this, he is now head of the Union of Public Organizations of Free Russia
While some observers suggested that he had been fired for failing to improve ties between the Russian Federation and the countries of “the near abroad” or even for exacerbating relations with Estonia and Ukraine, it appears more likely that he was shifted as he claimed to take over a more important portfolio, civil society organizations.
(For a discussion of his departure from the Presidential Administration and his possible new role, see, among other commentaries, http://evrazia.org/n.php?id=854, http://www.nr2.ru/moskow/146686.html, http://www.nr2.ru/moskow/146686, and http://www.nr2.ru/policy/146627.html.)
And on the other, Dmitriy Kozak, former head of the Southern Federal District and newly appointed minister for regional development, told the Federation Council that his “first-order task” is to reduce the number of territorial organs of federal power (http://www.prs.ru/articles/?id=17881).
That will directly challenge the personal ties between Moscow and the governors, a challenge that some have suggested could trigger a new political crisis between the center and the periphery, possibly even leading to “the dismemberment” of the country (http://www.snd-su.ru/cgi-bin/rg.pl?param=div2&page=4+4&type+1974&what=1001).
Such projections are likely overblown, but they point to the same phenomenon as the one Kolerov appears to reflect: a growing concern among some in the Moscow elite that relying on personal loyalty instead of national identification may no longer be sufficient for Russia’s future.