Sunday, April 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Still Doesn’t Recognize that Russia is ‘a Country of Cities, Not Subjects,’ Glazychev Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 11 – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s call for the definition of a strategy of social-economic development for federal subjects and districts is “absurd,” a leading Russian expert says, because Russia “consists not of subjects but of cities” and because development occurs in macro-regions whose borders have little in common with those Moscow has imposed
In an interview published in “Vzglyad” on Friday, Vyacheslav Glazychev, a professor of the Moscow Architecture Institute and a member of the Social Chamber, says that “raising the question about strategy for a federal district is absurd because a federal district is a controlled framework,” lacking “any physical essence” (
The only positive thing one could say about such an idea, he suggested is that earlier efforts to come up with strategies for particular subjects of the federations – its oblasts, krays, republics, and so on – were even more ridiculous and have “not justified themselves: money is spent and nothing is done.”
That does not mean that there has not been any development, the frequent Moscow commentator says, but it has taken place exclusively “at the macro-regional level,” and “the borders of these macro-regions have no relationship to the borders of federal districts and subjects of the Federation.”
Recognizing that is a requirement for moving forward, Glazychev says, and he suggests that some officials at the regional affairs ministry in Moscow are beginning to recognize that. Unfortunately, he continues, “up to now there is no such understanding” in the far more powerful economic development and finance ministries.”
All the regions of Russia require serious attention, the Moscow scholar says, but that attention must be individually specific rather than based on generalizations. And he addresses two such generalizations in which, he suggests, Moscow policy makers have continued to place too much confidence.
On the one hand, he says, “the concept of the company town [“monogorod”] in general is an invention.” Because of Soviet development policies, Russia has “almost no non-company towns.” Only Russian cities which have 500,000 residents or more in fact become “multi-company towns.”
And on the other, Glazychev continues, the faith some in Moscow have in the amalgamation of regions is based on “a completely absurd” notion that such combinations in and of themselves will improve the situation. In reality, he says, except for the so-called “matryoshka” republics, redrawing borders will “add nothing to development.”
Because Glazychev is a widely respected Russian thinker on spatial development – his 2004 report ( --continues to be widely cited, his comments now are certain to attract attention, all the more so because they represent the clearest dissent yet from Putin’s latest remarks.
But however much influence they may have on political choices in the Russian capital over the next few months, his words are also a reminder of a reality that many analysts, both in Moscow and in the West, tend to forget: In almost every case, the borders of the units within the Russian Federation reflect political choices in Moscow rather than natural economic units.
The Soviets routinely redrew these borders, sometimes in the name of improving administration but almost always with an eye to ensuring political control. And because that was the intention, the borders and even more the transportation networks Moscow ordered – typically spokes from oblast, kray or republic centers – hurt rather than helped promote economic growth.
Overcoming that will not be easy or perhaps even possible, but recognizing that it is a problem is a precondition for addressing the problems of economic development outside of Moscow. Unfortunately for Russia and its regions, Glazychev’s comments suggest that those with the greatest ability to affect the situation have not yet recognized that reality.

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