Moscow’s New ‘Spatial Development Policy’ Sparks Hopes and Fears in the Regions
January 21 – A new “Strategy for the Spatial Development of the Russian
Federation” is raising hopes for better coordination among existing regions,
greater investment and infrastructure in the eastern part of the country, and helping
Russia escape its current economic crisis by making it more competitive
But it is
also sparking fears outside of Moscow that it may ultimately lead to a new push
for the political amalgamation of existing federal subjects and that it may
create more chaos by creating yet another layer of bureaucracy between the
center, the federal districts and the oblasts, krays and republics of the
strategy is still under development by the Ministry for Economic Development,
but yesterday, “Izvestiya” reported on an experts meeting in Suzdal where many
of its provisions were outlined and concerns about them were aired (izvestia.ru/news/658777 and, with
additional details, nakanune.ru/news/2017/1/20/22458704/).
outlined by ministry representatives, the new strategy document gives priority
to development of the “geostrategically important territories” of the Far East,
the Arctic Zone, the North Caucasus, Kaliningrad, and Russian-occupied Crimea
and Sevastopol; and it calls for the creation of economic “macro-regions.”
domestic and foreign developments dictate these goals, the authors of the
document said; and many of the experts in attendance welcomed the fact that
Moscow had finally come up with a new spatial development plan.
Finogenov, the head of the Moscow Institute for Territorial Planning, said that
over the last century, Russia has gone through three major reorderings of its
territories: under Stolypin before the revolution, in the 1930s, and since the
1980s; and it is long past time to put things in better order.
existing spatial system is ineffective as far as the budget, the health of the population,
military security, and the exploitation of natural resources,” he said; and “a
certain balance is necessary between a project-based approach and simply
allowing spontaneous tendencies to continue.”
existing federal districts, Finogenov pointed out, vary widely both
demographically and economically, something that is “no secret for anyone” but
which must become the basis for planning rather than something simply accepted
as natural and inevitable.
to “Izvestiya,” the draft document outlines three possible scenarios: first, a
conservative one in which few changes would be made to existing arrangements, a
second one based on “competitive growth” among the regions that presupposes
that they will be open to the outside world, and a third in which Moscow helps
structure what the regions do.
Zubarevich, head of regional programs at the Independent Institute for Social
Policy, said that it is “premature” to discuss the document because it hasn’t
been finalized.Just what “macro-regions”
would consist of is likely to change over time, she argued, and so people
shouldn’t get agitated about their possible meaning. Finogenov agreed.
that hasn’t stopped people in the regions from worrying – although their
concerns were reported only in the regional news agency Nakanune rather than in
“Izvestiya.”Many are fearful, Nakanune
reported, that the macro-regions will be the basis for amalgamating more federal
subjects, but other regional experts are less certain of that.
Serov of the Urals Experts Club told the regional news service that the existing
federal districts were created to fight regional separatism and they have
performed that job well; but they have been unable to improve the coordination
of economic activities within the districts and need additional levers to do
economic macro-regions may be nothing more than an addition to the powers of
the presidential plenipotentiaries, but even if the cut across them, Serov
says, they will not necessarily be the basis for any new amalgamation
effort.What they will help promote, he
suggested, are more economically powerful regions.
Sysoyev, a deputy from Tyumen, said that in many ways he thinks that any new
macro-regions will represent a kind of reconstitution of regional bodies like the
Siberian Agreement of the 1990s. If he is right, that cuts both ways: On the
one hand, the region benefitted; on the other, Moscow felt threatened by such
Mikhail Serdyuk, a former Duma deputy from Yugra, said that what all this about
arises from the fact that “the trends in the economy are already ‘eating away’
at the borders between the governments and the subjects” of the Russian
Federation, something he said that should be encouraged rather than restricted.
unification of oblasts will not accelerate but on the contrary will freeze this
process,” he said, because “all the administrative power beginning with the municipalities
and ending with the regional bureaucrats for a year or more will be focused
simply on putting their desks in order.”
suggested that Russia doesn’t have enough time to waste on such exercises.