Vienna, October 19 – Viktor Basargin, Russia’s minister of regional development, said today that “it is too soon to speak” about a Moscow strategy for dealing with the country’s more than 400 company towns like Pikalevo, although he did say that resettling their residents to new locations was “an extreme measure” that would cost more than helping them in other ways.
The minister was speaking to a St. Petersburg forum on “Strategic Planning in the Regions and Cities of Russia,” and during his remarks, he suggested Moscow should seek to solve the problems of each on an individual basis, although Basargin did indicate that finding additional sources of investment for these cities was important.
Another speaker, Galina Izotova, the first deputy chairman of the Duma Committee on Federation Affairs and Regional Policy, indicated that the Russian parliament is pursuing that individual approach. At present, she said, there are two draft bills under consideration to deal with two of these company towns (www.rosbalt.ru/2009/10/19/681389.html).
No one would deny that each of these single-company towns presents unique aspects, but this one-company-town-at-a-time approach seems certain to take so long to implement that situations in some of these places are likely to deteriorate and even become explosive long before any help from Moscow can arrive.
On Friday, “Kommersant” called attention to that possibility in an unusual kind of company town – Shatalovo, a military settlement in Smolensk oblast whose “workers” have threatened to stage “a new Pikalevo” if Moscow does not agree to leave their aviation intelligence unit where it is (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1238033&NodesID=7).
Members of the unit, which has been stationed there since 1959 and which is famous for its involvement with the Mig-25 detachments that conducted military reconnaissance over Israel in 1973, said in an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev that if he does not countermand Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov’s order to move them, they will block a major highway.
After threatening all year to convene a general assembly of the military settlement, more than 1,000 Shatalov residents did so, and many of them spoke contemptuously of those officers who had had been willing to follow orders and begin the move. “At first only officers will go to Voronezh,” a speaker said. But “a woman’s voice broke him off and said ‘And prostitutes!’”
Given such statements and the threat that the military personnel might block the highway, both civilian officials and military commanders showed up to try to prevent the assembly from organizing itself and carrying out its threats. But the situation remains tense: officers who had already gone to the new place returned and told their comrades that conditions were bad.
Moreover, under the defense ministry’s relocation order, only about 1,000 of the 4,000 people in Shatalovo will move to Voronezh. The remainder, consisting of civilian specialists, including military retirees who have been working at the Shatalovo base, will be left behind and without any real chance of employment.
Nikolay Frolov, Federation Council member from Smolensk, said that “if the military doesn’t need the site, then it must be used in the civilian economy.” But he acknowledged that he did not have any ideas in this direction, although he said “serious people in Moscow” with whom he had spoken “have promised to think about that.”
Meanwhile, Nikolay Palaloga, the chairman of the Shatalovo Veterans Committee, warned his fellow residents that they should think before taking any dramatic actions and “remember the experience of Bloody Sunday [in 1905]” given that “the number of interior ministry troops is five times greater than the number of military personnel there.”
Despite that warning, the Shatalovo assembly unanimously adopted the letter which promised Moscow “a new Pikalevo” if the authorities did not help them out and said that the policies of the Russian defense ministry and high command are leading “not only to a loss in defense capability but to a distrust in the powers that be as well.”