Staunton, June 18 – The money the Kremlin is spending on Crimea and Ukraine more generally is exacerbating tensions between Moscow and hard-pressed regions, worsening the divide between well-off cities and their hinterlands, and leading some Russian nationalists to demand fiscal federalism as a first step toward creation of ethnic Russian republics.
Three very different articles news reports this week make these points. In the first, Andrey Karpov, a St. Petersburg transportation analyst, said pointedly that “the unification of Crimea to the Russian Federation and the probable economic assistance to the country of Novorossiya in the future” will provoke “a concrete struggle” among Russian regions for resources and hence between the and Moscow as well.
He said that his city might benefit from a shift in defense production away from Ukraine but that “the city is cut off from the rest of Russia by a wide belt of ‘dying villages’ with a few hearths of activity in the region and certain district centers which need further colonization and absorption,” things that will take more money.
In the second, titled “A Trip from Moscow to Russia,” Viktor Shatskhikh of Svobodnaya Pressa says that people in the provinces are increasingly outraged by the fact that teachers are paid 60,000 to 90,000 rubles (1800 to 2700 US dollars) a month while those in rural areas are receiving only a sixth of that amount.
He reports that complaints about this are now echoing across social networks on the Internet and says that ever more Russians are recognizing that these “African contrasts” are not the invention of foreign governments but Russian reality, one that people outside the capital say is unacceptable.
Moreover, these angry people are pointing out, he continues, that “in the United States, even in the furthest provinces, a young teacher without experience earns a minimum of 2,000 dollars a month. His colleague in New York or Washington receives approximately the same if he also teaches in a government rather than a private school.”
But it is the third article that is the most intriguing and may prove the most consequential. Oleg Noskov, a Russian commentator, says that Russian nationalists should promote real federalism within the Russian Federation as the best way to create a real Russian national republic or even more than one.
Like many others, Noskov begins by pointing out that relations between Russia, on the one hand, and Ukraine and Belarus, on the other, could not develop in a normal fashion because Russia after 1991 remained “a quasi-imperial state” with its many non-Russian republics while Ukraine and Belarus moved in the direction of forming nation states.
The first step Russian nationalists need to make in order to escape that trap and thus be in a position to form a Russian national republic is to reject the equation of “’the Russian world’ with a Russian imperial state.” And then, they must recognize that size alone doesn’t trump everything when it comes to national development.
But “the main question,” he says, is how genuinely Russian national regions or a Russian Republic will emerge.
“Typically, this process is connected with the disintegration of the Russian Federation or with constitutional reform which would allow the redrawing of the administrative map of the country and create certain new subjects.” But in fact, Noskov says, neither is necessary, at least as a first step.
What is needed is the promotion of genuine federalism and especially fiscal federalism so that Russian regions which already exist will have the power to tax and spent in ways that will allow them to develop independently of Moscow and thereby become the nuclei for a larger Russian nation state sometime in the future.
Noskov says that several predominantly ethnic Russian regions have shown how this might work. He points to the case of Belgorod which while far from perfect has developed to the point that it is sometimes called “’the Russian Switzerland’” given how well its economy has developed and how much it has been able to promote Russian culture.
A major reason for its success, the commentator continues, is its governor, Yevgeny Savchenko who is routinely denounced by both liberals and communists. “For the first, he is a socialist, a retrograde, and the protector of religious obscurantism; for the latter, a traitor to the collective farm system, a promoter of kulaks and of all kinds of ‘petty bourgeois’ failings.”
Nonetheless, he has shown what Russian regions could do, and now there are increasing indications that Moscow would like the regions to assume more responsibility so that when there are problems, Russians won’t blame Putin or the central government but rather regional leaders. The latter, Noskov says, should seize this opportunity.
If they do, he suggests, a number of Russian national republics could emerge, and “a ‘Russian world’ without empire” could happen. Such republics could attract others, and so their size to begin with is not important. After all, Switzerland has a population of only 7.5 million, and Austria, 8.5. Both are doing well.