Comment on the view that Russia has just two 'regions' today: Moscow and 'the rest'.

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Markus Rasswallner

Pembroke College

Russian Regions                                                        08.03.2003

Comment on the view that Russia has just two ‘regions’ today: Moscow and ‘the rest’.

        With the fall of the USSR, signalling the end of the biggest socio-economic experiment in modern history, the scene was set for perhaps the most profound changes Russia has ever witnessed. Although many analysts predicted an idealised teleological development path to a Western-style market economy and liberal democracy across the whole of Russia, the reality has been rather different. Apart from the fact that a Western market economy is not the best description of today’s Russia, regional differences – be they social, political and economic – are striking. At a first glance (especially if considering general economic variables such as contribution to GDP and share of FDI), it may appear that there are indeed just two ‘regions’: Moscow and the rest. However, this would be a gross oversimplification at best, and a distortion of reality at the worst. Apart from having to go beyond the economic issues (though they will be the centre of this enquiry due to its limited scope) into the (often indivisible) realm of politics and society, we must examine regions and sub-regions under different socio-economic aspects, using a variety of factors, variables and attempts of classifications. We must also delve into the structures and connections between them, or parts of them in order to find potential communalities, differences and interdependencies. In so doing, we shall discover that Russia is actually a geographical patchwork of spaces, which have, in their own specific ways, had their share of gains or losses since the beginning of the transition. Hierarchies and stark contrasts are indeed visible, and but not just in terms of ‘Moscow and the rest’. As so often in geography, scale is the key word. Moscow’s apparent supremacy is certainly relative to the scale and aspect under consideration. In addition, the legacy of the past is essential in the analysis of the present, and thus has to be borne in mind.

        The transition period is seeing the action of new economic forces on the structural, economic, political and cultural legacies of the Soviet Union. The outcome of these processes will be determined by the economic niches that the new Russia and its component parts (right down to individual households) will occupy, and the political struggles between the various governance levels and interest groups. To begin geographical differentiation it is perhaps best to begin at a coarse scale and look at general issues.

Though by no means entirely accurate, we must use some sort of structural framework to begin our regional analysis. For this we will resort to the probably most famous categorisation of regions into winners and losers (Bradshaw, 1996). He identifies five major types of regions in Russia:

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  1. Agricultural regions, suffering from bad infrastructure and conservative policy outlooks (e.g. South European Russia and Southern Siberia).
  2. Gateway and hub regions, which are highly integrated with other areas of Russia and in a strategic position. Most importantly, they possess international links. Their economy mainly focuses on services or high tech (e.g. large towns such as Moscow, St.Petersburg, Yekaterinburg in Central European Russia, Urals and West Siberia) It is important to note that regional centres as a whole, not only Moscow, are gaining importance.
  3. Resource regions: Oil and gas producing regions (and some metals) are generally doing ...

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