Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Heading toward ‘Semi-Collapse,’ Moscow Scholars Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 27 – Drawing on the information models of D.S. Chernyavsky, scholars at the Moscow Institute of Applied Mathematics at the Russian Academy of Sciences have concluded that Russia is rapidly entering a period of “semi-collapse,” in which large parts of the country will either fall under the influence of other countries or separate completely.
According to the model they have employed, “the North, the Eastern and part of Western Siberia will fall under the influence of the US, that Sakhalin and the Kuriles ‘will go’ to Japan, that part of the Far East will fall ‘under China, that a Muslim enclave will arise in the Middle Volga, and that a North-West Republic will emerge around the Kola Peninsula.”
“In order to avoid this outcome,” Georgy Malinetsky writes in his description of their findings in the current issue of “Computerra,” Russian “society will be required to devote extraordinary efforts.” His own description of the situation makes clear why that is so (offline.computerra.ru/2009/765/395598/).
Russia, he says the scholars have concluded, currently faces two “unpleasant” possibilities. On the one hand, it faces the likelihood that the price for its major export commodities – oil and gas -- will continue to fall as current consumers seek alternative sources energy supplies.
As L. Badalyan and V. Krovorotov have concluded, Malinetsky points out, “when a serious deficit of any resource emerges, people will search and find a new one, and as a result, the price and importance of the one they had been using will fall dramatically,” an outcome that will hurt Russia more than most because its production of these things is already falling.
And on the other hand, European and American officials are not going to ignore the problems Russia now has and will have in the future. Instead, acting on the basis of notions likes like “Siberia ought to belong to all humanity,” they will get more involved and in ways that will threaten Moscow’s control over much of the country.
Indeed, Malinetsky says, Dmitry Medvedev’s remark two years ago that the task of Russia’s elite is how to “more effectively administer the country in its existing borders” only looks “modest at first glance.” But as many have observed, “this is a program which has the goal of not allowing the disintegration of Russia which is taking place before our eyes.”
For his part, Malinetsky points to five “symptoms” which are powering the trend the mathematical models predict. The first of these, he says, is the enormous growth in income inequality, something that not only breeds social tensions but has created a large class of people who do not believe that the existing arrangements give them any voice over outcomes.
The second symptom is a serious imbalance in the incomes of people among Russia’s regions. Investigators have concluded that such differences can become a threat to the territorial integrity of a country when they reach a factor of five, but in Russia, the difference in incomes between the wealthiest and the poorest now is more than 25 times.
Malinetsky says that one of his colleagues from Yaroslavl says that “the ideal solution” to this problem would involve “separating Moscow from Russia,” because the capital currently “’eats up’ the most qualified information [and other] specialists and because major firms pay taxes in Moscow where they are registered and not in the regions where they work.”
The third symptom, he says, is the collapse of the transportation network. Never good, it has become worse and more expensive, and as a result, Malinetsky points out, “many people from Siberia already now do not travel to central Russia either for marriages or for funerals.” And firms in the Russian Far East now look to Asian markets rather than European ones.
The fourth symptom of impending disintegration that informs the Moscow model is the breakdown in relations between generations. “One of the causes of the catastrophe of the Soviet Union was the lack of any desire by sons to repeat the life course and social trajectory of the fathers,” a pattern that if anything is now growing and leading to “the degradation” of society.
And the fifth symptom of collapse is the rising importance of religious and ethnic differences. In the social and political life of the Russian Federation, Malinetsky writes, the number of dividing lines is become greater rather than less, even as “the world moves in the opposite direction,” as the recent American presidential election showed.
Unlike many Russians who engage in apocalyptic discussions of the future, the Moscow scholar writes more in sorrow than in anger about where his country now is, and both he and his colleagues are obviously convinced that the situation they and their fellow citizens is not beyond hope.
But it is equally clear from this article that their investigations have convinced them Russia does not have much time if it is to avoid the disasters their model predicts because as Malinetsky pointedly notes, some things can be changed within a time horizon of only a few months, but redirecting an entire society is a matter of decades or even centuries.

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