Friday, September 17, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Refusal to Subsidize Air Tickets Promoting Separatism in Kaliningrad, Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 17 – Moscow has turned down appeals from Kaliningrad officials to subsidize air travel between that non-contiguous Russian oblast and the Russian capitals, a decision that will further reduce contacts between Kaliningrad and the Russian Federation and contribute to the growth of separatism there, according to a Kaliningrad political scientist.
At the end of July, Kaliningrad officials appealed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to provide subsidies for air fares between Kaliningrad and Moscow and St. Petersburg. They currently run 12,000 rubles (400 US dollars) and are thus beyond the reach of most Kaliningraders (
But Moscow decided that there was no reason for the subsidies because officials there concluded that the cost of tickets between Kaliningrad and Moscow was roughly the same as that between other Russian cities and the capital, even though the residents of those cities have the option of going by train without passing through foreign countries.
Kaliningrad political scientist Vladimir Abramov told Irina Smirnova of “Svobodnaya pressa” that the calculations of Moscow were beneath contempt. On the one hand, Kaliningraders do not have the options to go by land that others have; and on the other, Moscow does provide subsidies to certain categories of residents in the Russian Far East.
The high price of tickets, Abramov said, has meant that fewer and fewer Kaliningraders are visiting the Russian Federation and thus are losing the sense of commonality that such visits can help support. During the first five months of 2010, the number of passengers leaving Kaliningrad by air fell 27.9 percent, even though elsewhere in Russia, they rose by 37 percent.
Obviously, Aeroflot has no interest in lowering fares and is delighted to keep its monopoly position because for it “profit is more important than patriotism, but it would be possible to allow “some major Western air carrier” to gain landing rights in Kaliningrad. Germany’s Lufthansa, for instance, could fly Kaliningraders both to Moscow and to Europe.
Abramov said that Russia should follow the French example. Paris subsidizes air travel by Frenchmen living in its foreign territories because the French authorities “understand what an exclave is and what it is necessary to do in order that its connection with the basic territory does not weaken.”
The failure of Moscow to provide subsidies for air travel or to support travel by ship – the last ferry left on August 25th -- is, he argued, “a path to the weakening of ties with the Russia.” And over time, Abramov argues, that points toward “separatism, regionalism or who knows what other problems.”
These aspects of the situation are something that Moscow does not understand, Abramov continued. All it is concerned about is ensuring that ‘Kaliningrad does not receive ‘unjustified preferences relative to other regions of the country,’” a calculation that ignores the special situation of the exclave and the consequences of treating it just like all the others.
But there is another problem with Moscow’s approach, Abramov says. The powers that be at the center do not understand that problems like those in Kaliningrad build up over time and need to be addressed in a strategic way. Instead, they routinely show that they will do nothing “until something happens,” an approach that almost certainly guarantees that something will.

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