By Paul Goble
Valerirya Voytenko, an regional specialist at Moscow’s Center for Scientific and Political Thought, suggests that Moscow has made so many mistakes in its dealings with the regions of the Russian Federation that it is difficult to speak of any policy or progress in that area.
Indeed, she says in a review of regional developments over the last 12 months that “unfortunately, regional policy has been carried out only in the form of expensive megaprojects” like the Olympics and World Cup intended to enhance “the prestige of the top people in Russia in the international arena” (politobzor.net/show-77285-regiony-rossii-itogi-2015-goda.html).
If there is a regional policy in fact, Voytenko suggests, the Kremlin is keeping it a secret from the rest of the country, and “the situation will only deteriorate if double standards and the imitation of activity do not cease to be the rule and guide to the activities of the Russian powers that be.”
To make her case, the Moscow scholar points to seven of what she labels “the bloopers” of the central government, actions and inactions that have made the situation worse already and that are likely to make it still worse in the years ahead.
1. Ending Direct Elections of Local Administrations. This move was “the latest step in the strengthening of the power vertical and the latest means to provide ‘insurance” to the ruling United Russia Party of challenges from the opposition.” But the results have been the opening of “a path to the degradation of the political system.”
2. Crimea Becomes Russia’s ‘Achilles’ Heel.’ Moscow has not figured out a way to prevent Crimea from being a black hole into which money flows but out of which comes little political loyalty from the Crimean Tatars, despite all of the Russian government’s efforts to win them over to its side.
3. Russia’s Muslims a Problem Because of Russia’s Foreign Policy. Moscow’s campaign in Syria has intensified Moscow’s problems at home with its own Muslim population. The number of counter-terrorism actions in many places has risen despite claims that the departure of radicals to fight for ISIS in the Middle East has led to a decline in radicalism at home.
Moscow’s problems in this area are compounded by the fact that many of the nations in the Caucasus have large co-ethnic communities in Syria and Turkey, and consequently, the reaction of the latter to Moscow’s bombing and hardline on Turkey have affected the attitudes of the former.
“The Russian leadership,” Voytenko says, “has done nothing besides papering over ‘the cracks’ of federalism by continuing its policy of loyalty toward the Muslim republics.”
4. Communist Victory in Gubernatorial Elections a Danger Signal for the Kremlin. With the election of KPRF candidate Sergey Levchenko to the governorship of Irkutsk Oblast, United Russia’s monopoly on power at that level begins to look less secure. There are now two KPRF governors, one LDPR member, and 12 non-party, alongside the 70 United Russia loyalists.
Moreover, even where the United Russia candidate won, he often did so with less than half the vote and with barely more than his opponent,, as was the case in Mari El and Amur Oblast.
5. Double Standards in Dealing with Cadres in the Regions. The arrest of one governor, the dismissal of others, and the declining ratings of still more shows that Moscow hasn’t figured out a single standard for dealing with the heads of the regions. Some regional heads are exploiting this; others are simply quaking in fear.
6. Moscow Failing to Address Regions’ Needs. The demographic and social needs of people in the regions are not being met. In 45 subjects, there was a decline in the number of people as a result of more deaths than births, and the overall increase in the country’s population—6800 in 2015 – reflected strong growth in Muslim areas and steep declines in ethnic Russian ones.
Unemployment has been much higher in many regions than in Moscow or other cities. Production industrial and agricultural is down there. And the standard of living in the regions remains much behind that of the major cities, something ever more people in those regions are aware of.
The regions lack the resources to do much about this, Voytenko says, as more than half of htem –49 – showed a deficit in their consolidated budgets last year.
7. Moscow Only Raises New Questions by Its Bureaucratic Moves. Moscow has disbanded some structures like the Ministry for Crimean Affairs without a good explanation and then seen the situation on the peninsula deteriorate given that instead of 200 officials working on it, only 15 are.
That is part of a general problem in which it has become entirely unclear why Moscow is doing what it is doing, what any reorganization will mean besides an effort to grab more money, and whether any given arrangement will last very long.