Vienna, March 18 – Even before the onset of the current economic crisis, per capita incomes varied widely not only between Moscow and the rest of the country but also among the regions and republics themselves, a situation that most people were prepared to tolerate as long as unemployment was low and incomes rising.
But now that the number of jobless is increasing in many places and incomes are falling, fewer people are willing to put up with this pattern, especially if they are among the “losers.” And, according to the editors of “Nezavimaya gazeta,” the Russian government is not only making this situation worse but is creating conditions for new challenges to itself.
In an unsigned lead article published in yesterday’s edition, the editors of the independent Moscow newspaper argued that both “the crisis and the clumsy actions of the powers that be have given birth to new disproportions among the subjects of the [Russian] Federation” (www.ng.ru/editorial/2009-03-18/2_red.html).
A year ago, for example, per capita incomes of residents in the gas-rich Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District were 10 to 13 times that of those in the republics of the North Caucasus, and such differences between Moscow and the rest of the country were even larger, a pattern that many to conclude that the government “had done almost nothing” to address these imbalances.
Now, the editors say, the situation is worse for two reasons. On the one hand, the economic crisis has hit some sectors and hence some regions harder than others. And on the other, the powers that be have acted in ways that are leading people to ask why, when the incomes of all are falling, should “the Center favor some regions more than others.”
On Monday, the finance ministry announced that it had distributed 15 billion rubles (430 million US dollars) to the regions as part of its anti-crisis program, but there are “great suspicions,” the editors said, that this money will never reach the poorest regions “which have been forced to cut pay and reduce other expenditures.”
Such suspicions are all the more justified because Moscow has openly manifested “signs of regional discrimination,” promising special discounts on air tickets to young people and pensioners the Far East [almost certainly to keep them from taking part in protests] and giving special funding to “industrially developed regions” to prevent a spike unemployment there.
With regard to the former tactic, the paper said, the government clearly “has not thought how to explain to citizens who live” in distant regions but not in the favored Far East why they are not getting gush benefits. And with regard to the latter, the Center has not thought about where unemployment is already staggeringly high: the North Caucasus.
In Chechnya, 35.5 percent of the workforce is unemployed, and in Ingushetia, 55 percent do not have work. “The situation is not much better in neighboring republics.” And consequently, no one should be surprised that there are so many separatists there and that that some of them are ready to seek a better deal outside the Federation even by force of arms.”
“Who can be pleased when toward some regions, Russia acts like a concerned mother and toward others like an evil stepmother?” the paper asked rhetorically. And it pointed out that it is very much in the interest of the country for Moscow to “recognize as quickly as possible” that it needs to act to reduce regional differences rather than promote them.
If that does not happen, the editors comments suggest, they are clearly convinced that the economic problems Russia now has will only get worse and that these problems will pale into insignificance in comparison with the social and political challenges that will surely follow in the wake of Moscow’s mistaken policies.