Staunton, January 14 – Practically all efforts to promote development while maintaining a power vertical based on the existing arrangements of regions, republics and municipalities have failed because development requires a different set of incentives than does the vertical which is interested above all in maintaining itself, according to Rasul Kadiyev.
Nowhere is that more true than in the North Caucasus where local elites seek to increase employment and to attract more federal aid to themselves rather than promote the kind of development which would call into question their own power with its roots in “parasitic” clans.
But the journalist says that given economic stringency in Moscow, that may be changing – the center has less money to give – and so the North Caucasus will face what to many of its leaders will be an unwelcome change: accepting rule from the outside as the price for genuine rather than imaginary development in their regions.
“The vertical of power is needed for its own preservation and not for the development of regions or municipalities,” and the current administrative arrangements have created the wrong incentives for action by officials and the population more generally. “As a result, indicators have become more important than results, and receiving aid more important than development.”
But a new Russian law adopted last month which anticipates the creation of special enclaves within or across the borders of municipalities and federal subjects could change that – or quite possibly trigger a new political conflict between the center which is interested in such things and regional and urban elites who may not be.
The new law calls for the creation of special zones in which Moscow would provide the capital and name a powerful corporate administrator while reducing the role of local officials in managing what goes on within the zones on the basis of projections that such zones could promote the kind of economic development that the regions have not succeeded in doing.
It suspends many of the provisions of laws governing the administrative-territorial division of the country and thus strikes at the heart of the power bases of officials in regions, republics, and cities. And it is likely to be used as a justification for cutting subsidies to the regions and municipalities as well.
What this means, Kadiyev says, is that the resources that had been going to the regional and municipal administrations will now go to these corporations instead, and it is “obvious” that “this system will not have a liberal character,” something suggested by the way in which the legislation was prepared in secret and then rammed through the Duma.
Depending on one’s perspective, these new arrangements can be either “a threat or a chance” for the North Caucasus, the journalist continues. Those in the population who would benefit from economic growth are likely to be for it; but those in the regional and urban administrations who would lose power are less likely to be enthusiastic.
That is certain to generate resistance, but the new arrangements if they take off will also have the effect, Kadiyev argues, of leading to “an intensification of competition among municipalities and even regions for residents and businessmen.” And that in turn may give Moscow the whip hand to break some regional elites and the clans with whom they work.