Staunton, June 13 –Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has called for reducing the number of military towns in the Russian Federation from approximately 8,000 to 184, a measure that if implemented will hit some parts of the country extremely hard and add to Moscow’s still-unresolved “company town” [“monogorod”] problem.
In a report on Serdyukov’s plans, “Vedomosti” journalist Kira Yegorova says that the defense ministry plans to stop funding more than 97 percent of the existing military settlements. Those cut off will either be closed down entirely or transferred to the responsibility of local and regional officials (www.vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/2010/06/09/1034207).
Natalya Zubarevich, the director of the Moscow Institute of Social Policy, told the paper that “if the military units in these towns are disbanded, these [settlements] will become spectral monogorods, because all the civilian population in them are employed in support of the functioning of the military unit[s]” there.
“If the settlement[s are] located near a major city,” she continued, “then [they] will simply become a bedroom community. But if [and this is true of many of these settlements, they] are located somewhere in the forest, it will be necessary to move the people to somewhere else. There is no other way,” she concluded.
This process, Zubarevich said, “will be long, problem-filled and difficult, just as is the case with the other monogorods. Therefore, the most important is not to come up with a grandiose plan, but to monitor the situation in order to understand where people can find alternative occupations” and where they will have to be moved somewhere else.
“Each case,” she argued, “must be considered individually. Otherwise things will develop, as the saying has it, ‘when the trees are cut down, the chips will fly.” And given the number of places involved and the difficulties local and regional officials will have in coping, Moscow’s strategy could create serious problems.
Zubarevich said that this problem is likely to be particularly serious in the North, a view a commentator at Barentsobserver.com share. According to him, there are dozens of military towns, with several hundred thousand residents, in Murmansk oblast alone (www.barentsobserver.com/closing-russian-military-towns.4792080-116321.html).
Given the difficulties the powers that be at all levels have had dealing with the fewer than 500 company towns that Moscow officials had identified in the past, the addition of more than 7500 others almost certainly will lead to greater problems and quite possibly to more protests than Serdyukov or others in the Russian capital now foresee.