Staunton, August 24 – Because of its history, Russia currently has a center and two very distinct “colonies,” but Moscow today is failing to recognize these differences and instead is pursuing a strategy that threatens to lead to the further disintegration of the country, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.
Russia’s central industrial core has two colonies, one in Siberia and the Far East which which were settled and remain dominated by Russian colonists and provide raw materials and the second is the North Caucasus which was militarily occupied and where ethnic Russians form a decreasing share of the population (kp.ru/daily/26123/3016007/).
To a remarkable extent, he continues, theseresemble in many respects the two types of colonies European powers established: those with a European majority and those in which the Europeans formed only a tiny fraction of the population. But unlike those empires which have disappeared, much of Russia’s even after 1991 remains largely intact.
“Formally, Russia is a federal state,” he says, but in response to the chaos engendered by the collapse of the USSR, Moscow after 2000 moved to restore the power of the center of the regions, a process that involved Vladimir Putin’s “power vertical” and the imposition of “budget discipline” on the federal subjects.
“But the stronger the power of the center has become,” Inozemtsev argues, “the greater the resemblance has become between a democratic federation and a great power empire” -- and the greater the need to recognize the threats to the territorial integrity of the country that are emerging with new force thanks to Moscow’s one-size-fits-all approach.
Were Moscow to lose the North Caucasus, the impact on the rest of the country would not be so great, but if the center loses Siberia and the Far East, the consequences would be enormous. The lands east of the Urals form 74.8 percent of the area of the country, and they provide 50.7 percent of the revenues of the federal budget.
If Moscow lost income from “Siberian exports” of gas and oil and other raw materials, Russia would “immediately fall from ninth to 30th place in the rates of global exporters” – which would put it on a part with Austria. In short, he says, “today it is not Siberia which is the eastern borderland of Russia, but Moscow is a large unproductive city to the west of Siberia.”
Moscow isn’t devoting enough attention to this problem, but developments are forcing its hand: The difference in GDP per capita by regions in Russia is now 18 to 19 times, whereas in the US, it is only twice; in Brazil, it is 4.4 times, and in the European Union, it is 5.9 times – “and the EU is not a unified state.”
One cannot fail to see, Inozemtsev says, that “this split in Russia is forming precisely between, on the one hand, the raw material regions which are being run as economic colonies and, on the other, ‘republics’ more like the Emirates an administered through a complex system of semi-vassal relations.”
At present, the Moscow scholar argues, Siberia is being exploited for Moscow’s benefit. It needs to be given more “economic autonomy” and to develop as a center in its own right if it is to avoid “degradation” and to remain part of the Russian Federation. And Moscow must change its approach to the North Caucasus, continuing its present economic assistance but eliminating the rule of local satraps, just as “the British Empire operated in India.”
Inozemtsev says he is sure that many will view his proposals as “a strategy directed at ‘the disintegration of the country’” and that “hundreds of ‘experts’ will be found who will conceive it in just that way.” But he suggests that no one should “forget” that things that look strong as the USSR did may turn out to be “the least so” of all.
As if to prove Inozemtsev’s point, “Komsomolskaya Pravda” appends to his article a comment by Maksim Shevchenko who dismisses the Moscow economist’s ideas as “a classic example of the thinking of a Russian liberal-nobleman.” A broader sampling of reaction was provided yesterday by “Svobodnaya pressa” (svpressa.ru/politic/article/73043/).
Natalya Zubarevich, the director of regional programs at the Moscow Independent Institute for Social Policy, told “Svobodnaya pressa” which entitled its article “A Federation of a Colonial Type” that Inozemtsev overly simplifies the situation and fails to recognize that the problem is broader than he suggests.
“Inozemtsev proposes considering Siberia and the Far East as colonies. But forgive me, isn’t the European north a colony? What for example is being doing in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District or in the Khanty-Mansiisk one? Exactly the same thing that is being done in the Far East.”
What is needed, she suggests, is a decentralization from Moscow to all of the subjects of the Russian Federation. But that would be both “difficult and dangerous” and is opposed by Moscow as a result because it would quite probably destroy “the power vertical,” which is already “not working as all can see.”
But Inozemtsev’s argument was enthusiastically accepted by Valery Solovey, an MGIMO political scientist and political activist. He says that the economist had “quite realistically described what contemporary Russia is; and [Inozemtsev’s] plan of action is correct.”