Staunton, March 6 – Officials in the Russian capital remain so Moscow-centric that they have been unwilling to recognize the new reality that protests are now more common beyond the ring road than within it and at the same time unable to come up with any strategy that will address that challenge.
Instead, their traditional recipe – replacing current governors with new brooms from the outside – appears to be exacerbating problems in the very regions where this has occurred, raising questions about whether the Kremlin can afford to make more such leadership changes or whether it will be forced to try something else entirely.
For the time being at least, Moscow officials are adopting an even more time-honored approach: they are ignoring what is going on in the regions and significantly undercounting and underreporting the levels of protest now found in many parts of the Russian Federation, a pattern unfortunately replicated by all too many Western observers as well.
The Petersburg Policy Foundation has published its latest survey of social-political stability in Russia’s regions (fpp.spb.ru/fpp-rating-2017-02), and its results cannot welcome to those in the Kremlin who may be paying attention. They show that where Moscow has installed new governors, the situation has deteriorated in every case (nakanune.ru/news/2017/3/6/22462793/).
As the foundation’s analysts point out, some of these declines may be short term: changes at the top are always stressful because the new person seldom knows on whom he or she can rely or where the bodies are buried as it were. But some, they suggest, may prove more persistent because of the contempt they suggest Moscow has for local and regional concerns.
But another study, this one prepared by the Moscow Center for Economic and Political Problems, suggests that Moscow has found at least one way to avoid worrying about these problems. Its officials simply redefine categories like strikes and wage arrears to understate how massive these problems are (versia.ru/vlasti-zamalchivayut-socialnye-protesty-trudyashhixsya).
That allows people in the center to convince themselves that things are not as bad beyond the ring road as they in fact are. But that is only a short-term solution because if these conflicts are ignored, “the situation may pass out of control and separate protests against specific employers grow into a full-scale all-Russian protest against the policy of the authorities.”
Rosstat, one of the analysts involved says, has defined strikes so narrowly that it is able to ignore most work actions. For the central statistical agency, a strike “is not simply the expression of protest by employees of an enterprise,” but rather “ a formalized process” involving a specific kind of declaration by a union. Nothing else counts.
Consequently, if workers leave the bench in protest, it isn’t a strike as far as Moscow is concerned however much it appears to be a strike to those who are participating in it. The same pattern governs wage arrears and other measures of social discontent as well, the center’s experts say.