Staunton, September 27 – Russia does not face any prospect of disintegrating in the way that the Soviet Union did – Moscow has changed the situation too much for that to happen – but it needs to form a new relationship among it regions and between them and the center if it is to avoid stagnation or worse, according to Vadim Shtepa.
But for that relationship to develop, one based on networks rather than a pyramid of power, both the regime and its opponents will have to change their understanding of the nature of the challenges Russia faces and proceed to negotiate and sign a new federation treaty.
In a commentary on the “Spektr” portal on Friday, Russia’s most prominent regionalist writer says that both the Putin regime and its opponents view the disintegration of the country as the end of the world, with the only difference that the regime blames the opposition for this and the opposition the regime.
Escaping from this dead end is now especially difficult given the adoption of the “law against separatism, a measure that has meant few are prepared to discuss the challenges of disintegration lest they be accused of engaging in propaganda for it – as if,” Shtepa says, “prohibiting any discussion of a problem will make that problem disappear.”
But one place from which one can perhaps begin is to show that Russia might ever disintegrate as the Soviet Union did is “in principle impossible.”
“The Union fell apart,” he says, “because legitimately elected authorities arose in the republics which were no longer subordinate to the CPSU ‘vertical.’ But today,” he continues, elections have been eliminated or rendered meaningless, and regional political parties have been declared illegal.
“It is thus quite impossible to imagine any massive civic movement for independence of this or that region like the Baltic Peoples Fronts in the USSR. The single separatist exception was Chechnya, but it was successfully drowned in money from the sale of oil,” the regionalist writer says.
In Russia today, power at the center is personalized to an almost unprecedented degree, something that in most places would open the way to disaster. But in the Russian Federation, this concentration of power has had exactly the opposite effect: there are no institutions left capable of existing on their own and thus being in a position to challenge the supreme leader.
That does not mean that all is right with the world. Just the reverse. What Russia needs for successful development is the replacement of the current pyramid-style of governance with a network one which can be more mobile and effective than any hierarchical one and that will benefit both those in power and those in the opposition.
Hyper-centralization is a threat to the existence of such network, but so too is constant talk about disintegration which keeps regions from working with one another and prevents the center from seeing that such inter-regional cooperation is not a threat but something from which it will benefit as well, Shtepa says.
Unfortunately, Moscow is seeeking to impose not less but total centralization as can be seen by the way in which air routes are now structured. They are much more Moscow-centric than they were even in Soviet times, something that irritates the regions and does nothing for the country as a whole.
What has to happen, Shtepa says, is a paradigm shift. Russians must stop thinking in “imperial terms” and conceive of the country as “an equal network space” made up of a multitude of self-standing regions. Making such a shift won’t be easy after 500 years of imperialism, but without it, “we will not see any prospects” for the future.
A Russia which remains based on an imperial pyramid, he continues, will remain “archaic” and will drive people away rather than attract them to it. Only by making the shift to a network model, he says, will the Russian language and Russian culture become attractive rather than offensive to others.
To that end, Russia’s regions “must become full-fledged ‘subjects of the federation’” rather than mere decorations. And that likely will require the adoption of a new Federation treaty not promulgated by Moscow but agreed to among country’s regions and republics, Shtepa says.
The regions need to see a federation in which they will benefit rather than be harmed. If they will benefit, they will want to be part of it rather than flee from it. And such an attitude, Shtepa concludes, will only arise if there are real benefits from being part of the Federation. It won’t appear if “someone is threatened with repression for ‘separatism.'”