Thursday, January 28, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Said Planning a New Strategy to Fight ‘Financial Separatism’

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 28 – The Kremlin’s effort to fight what some are now describing as the spread of “financial separatism” by making Russian regions outside of Moscow even more dependent on the center for financing could rein in the leaders and people of some of them, according to a Moscow economist.
But this strategy, in contrast to “the cultivation of the image of the enemy” that the central powers that be have used to unify the country in the past, carries with it too risks, Anatoly Loskutov argues. On the one hand, Moscow’s heavy-handedness in imposing such controls may spark more opposition (
And on the other, this “attempt at surrounding the capital which functions on speculative-market principles with territories with a planned economies and the lack of internally self-standing infrastructure” by itself creates problems for the economic development of the country and may exacerbate tensions as well.
“In the opinion of some Kremlin experts,” Loskutov, who identifies himself as a retired officer with a doctorate in economics, says, “the Poverty of Russia” in and of itself can serve as “a beautiful national idea,” a means of eliminating some of the kinds of challenges to central control around the country.
“Separatist attitudes in many regions of Russia have become a real headache for the Kremlin,” Loskutov argues. Not only are far more regions involved than just the North Caucasus, but “senior bureaucrats [in Moscow] treat the concept of separatism as something much larger than the juridical change of territorial borders.”
And so-called “financial separatism” despite official criticism “in essence is appearing ever more strongly not only among representatives of business, if indeed such a thing remains today in Russia, but also among the population” which increasingly views the center as having made promises Moscow has not fulfilled.
In response to this phenomenon, one that helps explain among other things the recent statement of Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov about combining donor and recipient federation subjects, Moscow has taken a number of new steps to eliminate this phenomenon “from the consciousness of people for a long time if not forever.”
Until recently, the Moscow economist continues, “the basic method” of uniting “the nation in Russia” was “the cultivation in the masses of the image of a common enemy.” But today, that is problematic in terms of effectiveness because there are so many different enemies and consequently the value of “the enemy” as such has inevitably “fallen.”
The war with Georgia and the possibility of an armed conflict with Ukraine have done little to unite Russians, he says, and the United States, while always “important” in this regard, has become a less useful tool because Moscow has invoked it so often and because Moscow needs to talk to Washington on many issues.
In the search of such unifying enemies, Loskutov continues, “the Baltic countries are too small,” Russia depends “too much” on Europe to make it an enemy, and other possible enemies, such as Belarus, have the effect of dividing Russians as much as they unify them. Consequently, the Kremlin under President Dmitry Medvedev has been searching for another tactic.
“The new integrating conception of supporting centralization,” the economist continues, “must be based on economic levers, and its essential feature is that the survival of the subjects of the Russian Federation must be possible exclusively in terms of the dependence on the attitudes and closeness of the Kremlin.”
Loskutov says that “it might seem” that this is an absurd calculation. After all, it is precisely “this dependence” which prompted people in the regions to be increasingly negative about Moscow and to think about alternatives to the current fiscal and even economic and political situation.
“However,” he says, “in the opinion of presidential economic analysts and strategists, if the government further distorts the economy in the direction of the capital city, then it will be much easier to insist on the idea that ‘Moscow is our [only] chance to exist.’ If people in the regions believe that, the Kremlin believes, it will help defeat separatist impulses.
To implement this policy, Loskutov continues, the powers that be will have to “cultivate Moscow and adjoining territories according to the principle of priority development where will be concentrated only commercially profitable production complexes,” with the maximum inflow of money “and the reduction of the state’s influence that interferes with business development.”
Institutionalizing this, he says, will take five to seven years, “after which not one problem region will even be able to imagine any existence apart” from the center. And this approach will have the additional benefit, some analysts say, of concentrating sectors of strategic importance “on one territory.”
But moves by Moscow in that direction, as the response to Gryzlov’s proposals shows, may spark more resistance at least in the near term as regional elites can see the direction the center is moving. Earlier this week, for example, one Karelian activist said his people might turn to Finland for help if Moscow eliminated their statehood in the name of economic efficiency.
Anatoly Grigoryev, the president of the Karelian Congress social organization, said that Gryzlov’s suggestion that federation subjects should be combined depending on whether they were self-supporting or not was a violation of the constitution and a threat to nations like the Karelians (
According to the Constitution, Grigoryev said, “our country consists of republics, krays and oblasts which are equal regardless” of whether they are donor or recipient entities. Consequently, any plan “to unite Karelia with Murmansk or Leningrad oblasts is nothing other than an attack on Karelian statehood.”
And in an implicit threat, he added that Karelians this year are marking the 90th anniversary of their act of self-determination as a people, noting that “if the Karelians are not able to preserve their statehood inside Russia, they will have to appeal for help in the establishment of autonomy in neighboring Finland.”

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