07/30/2021, 17.37
RUSSIA
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New provinces in Russia’s Far East will reinforce Putin's centralism

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The new subjects will be led by Kremlin-appointed officials, ignoring the opinion of the local population, tired of being treated like slaves. Protests continue in Khabarovsk. Putin's cronies like oligarch Abramovich are selling off local resources to the Chinese, without developing the region.

 

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Russian Ministry of Development of the Far East and the Arctic has decided to reorganise the territories under its jurisdiction. 

The region’s residents, who have been at loggerheads with the central government for a long time, reacted to the news with great wariness since no one asked their opinion. For many, the move is just another way of boosting Putin’s hold on power.

The Kremlin has decided to set up four new provinces – Transbaikal (Zabaikalskaya), Islands (Ostrovnoy), Border (Prigranichnuyu) and Northern (Severnyy) – out of the various entities that make up the Far Eastern Federal District.

Minister Aleksey Chekunkov said that this would better and more effective from an economic point of view. The new "economic provinces" would not entail any administrative changes. 

Vladimir Putin had said as much in 2000, when he was first elected Russian president. At the time, the government also created other new federal subjects led by Kremlin appointees.

With the new provinces, another layer of bureaucracy run by unelected officials will be added to the Russian Federation, but then their leaders might not always see eye to eye with the strongman in Moscow.

In 2012, then President Dmitry Medvedev reintroduced elections for regional governors; in recent years, several of them have tried to act independently of central government policies.

One case that stands out is that of Sergei Furgal. In 2018 he was elected governor of Khabarovsk Krai, one of the most important regions in Russia’s Far East, with 70 per cent of the vote, unexpectedly humiliating Putin's candidate.

He then fought hard against corruption and the intrusiveness of the central bureaucracy. Last year, he was arrested on serious charges, believed to be trumped up by many, and is now languishing in jail.

In the wake of Furgal’s arrest, many in Khabarovsk have launched a major protest campaign, which has not yet ended despite a government crackdown. However, new provincial officials appointed by the president have taken on the task of running the region.  

As journalist Vadim Shtepa wrote in sibreal.org, “this is a typical way for an empire to govern the provinces” and “counter protests like those in Khabarovsk”.  People in these parts are tired of being treated like slaves; ultimately, such moves “will achieve nothing but further feed anti-Moscow sentiments”.

From an economic point of view, Russia’s Far East today looks more like a colony, than a province. The centre grabs all the raw materials, without investing in the technological and social development of the territory.

The RFP Group for example refused to build a pulp and paper mill in the region because it was not economically profitable. The company is owned by Putin crony Roman Abramovich, who lives in London and owns Chelsea F.C., a Premier League football club current holder of the UEFA Champions League title.

Instead of processing Far East lumber locally, generating local revenues and jobs, cheap Russian lumber is exported to China, guaranteeing Abramovich safer revenues.

Historically, one of the reasons for the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union was precisely the impatience of the "distant provinces" –Baltic, Caucasian or Asian Republics – over Moscow’s centralism.

“If one's fated to be born in Caesar's Empire, let him live aloof, provincial, by the seashore,” wrote in the 1960s, dissident poet and Nobel Prize winner Iosif Brodsky, about his native city, St. Petersburg (then Leningrad).

In Soviet times, the country’s second largest city felt neglected by the capital, which even today seems to be pursuing Muscovy’s medieval dream of being the “Third Rome”.

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