Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Many Russian Regions Would be Better Off if They Were Independent, Study Finds

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 29 – The Davos World Economic Forum has been rating countries in terms of their international competitiveness for a long time; now, for the first time, Russian researchers have applied its scale to 38 of Russia’s regions and found that had many of them existed as independent states, they would have done better than Russia has as a whole.
The Davos measure rates the Russian Federation as a whole at 71, but when the Bauman Innovation Center and the Moscow Center for Strategic Studies examined that country’s regions individually, it found that Novosibirsk oblast, Tatarstan and Moscow oblast ranked far higher, at 45, 47, and 50th respectively (
“If [these regions] lived on their own,” the study reported, “then they would compare in competitiveness with others in the following way: Novosibirsk oblast would compare with Cyprus and Turkey (45th and 46ths in the Davos rating), Tatarstan with Hungary (47th place), and Moscow oblast with Costa Rica (50th place).”
Indeed, of the 38 federal subjects evaluated in this way, 33 outranked the Russian Federation as a whole on this measure of national competitiveness. The Chelyabinsk, Kaliningrad, Astrakhan, Sverdlovsk, and Tomsk oblasts, Krasnodar and Perm kray, and St. Petersburg were among those above the Russian national ranking.
Among those below this measure were Tula and Tver oblasts, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Adygeya, whose competitiveness ranged respectively from that of Egypt and Kazakhstan at the top to Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Bulgaria at the lower end, respectively.
(The Russian analysts who prepared this study interviewed more than 4,000 officials and businessmen, but they decided not to include the city of Moscow. In their view, “the capital is too distinctive and thus requires a separate investigation.” They promise to prepare and release one in the future.)
On the one hand, such regional divergence should come as no surprise. Almost by definition, in the Russian Federation as in every other country, some regions will fall above the national average because of various geographic, historical, and economic developments, and some will fall below it.
But on the other, the appearance of such measurements and even more a spreading appreciation of the realities they reflect could have political consequences in the ebb and flow of power between the center and periphery of the Russian Federation in the current situation (
And although “Gazeta” suggested that the study underemphasized the ways in which membership in the Russian Federation as a whole worked to the benefit of even those federal subjects which are doing better than the country’s average, the Moscow paper pointed out that “one could consider [the findings of this research] to be a hymn to separatism.”
Indeed, in the current environment, many analysts are inclined to do just that. One Russian commentator this week for example recalled as have many others in the past that the falling price of oil and gas in the mid-1980s undermined and ultimately destroyed the USSR (
It had that impact, he argued, because different national republics concluded that they could do better on their own economically as well as politically. And consequently, the Moscow analyst said, some regions in the Russian Federation – predominantly ethnic Russian as well as non-Russian – might draw the same conclusion now given the declining price for oil and gas.

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