07/28/2020, 10.07
RUSSIA
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Khabarovsk protests spreading, centralised control of the economy criticised

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Thousands of people take part in protests in the Far East, the north, Arkhangelsk, as well as Moscow, where 20 people were arrested. Putinism and the Soviet model that still dominate society are the targets.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Protests have not stopped after the arrest of Khabarovsk Governor Sergei Furgal who was forcibly replaced by fellow (liberal-nationalist) party member Mikhail Degtyaryov (pictured), considered more loyal to President Putin.

Criticising Russia's "colonial" centralism, several thousands of protesters took to the streets in the Far East, the far north (Arkhangelsk), and the capital itself, where 20 protestors were arrested.

The "Khabarovsk uprising" is now a national affair, and is likely to become the most important event in the country's political life in 2020. Up to now, 2020 was the year of the pandemic that shows no signs of going away (yesterday 6,000 more positive cases with almost 100 dead).

Degtyaryov’s appointment – while the investigation into the offences attributed to Furgal is still ongoing – is to many Khabarovsk residents a real provocation. A populist who showed interest in people's problems was replaced by a grey official "bound" to the central government, seen moreover as a "traitor" to his own partner.

The reasons for the protests highlight the fragility of Russia’s economy and social cohesion, based on the Soviet style division of resources.

During the Brezhnev era, planning was based on the fake data provided by the bureaucracy, while in fact it was the Communist Party with its corrupt officials that decided what would happen locally.

Out of 89 federal subjects in the Russian Federation, only 13 have a surplus (they were 35 in 1993, and 25 in 2001). The remaining regions live on transfer payments from Moscow.

Khabarovsk, for example, covers an area almost the size of Turkey, much larger than France, despite having only 1.3 million inhabitants. It must live with an annual allocation of about 6.5 billion rubles (US$ 89 million). Yakutia, another eastern region as large as India known for its gold and diamonds that fill the state coffers, receives 52 billion for a population that is smaller than Khabarovsk’s.

The people of Khabarovsk are standing up for the controversial Furgal precisely because he tried to keep resources for the local population, calling into question the entire system of state transfers and central control of the economy.

The growth of the protests is extremely dangerous for the future of Putinism. The president thought he was safe with constitutional reforms and church construction celebrating Russia’s victories.

Putin seems to be in denial, unwilling to understand economic problems and regional discontent. He recently presented a ten-year plan with nation-wide projects to be implemented by 2030, in which he talks about capacities of "self-realisation", the country's positive energies, "successful entrepreneurship", while Russian markets seem to be facing an unprecedented catastrophe after months of pandemic.

Behind the "25 million entrepreneurs" praised by the president, Russians see the usual caste of oligarchs who are selling off Russia to the highest bidder, from the East or the West.

It must be said that Russia is still deeply Soviet, and does not guarantee active citizen participation in politics and the economy.

The justice system also appears to be subservient to the interests of the central leadership, and elections are but a joke, with a new proposed law that would see elections held over an extended period of several days like in last month’s farcical constitutional referendum.

The protests, this time, could instead lead to something much more serious.

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