Staunton, September 2 – Vladimir Kagansky, a Russian economic geographer, says that in the absence of real politics, “the only opposition in Russia are the regions,” and that regionalization of the country, something he argues is irreversible, will lead to the country’s decolonization and de-ideologization.
In his The Cultural Landscape and Soviet Habitable Space (in Russian; Moscow: NLO, 2001), Kazansky outlines the challenges that any Russian leader would face in trying to rein in the challenges to the territorial integrity of the country given the “chaotic” nature of its space.
(Excerpts are now found at ttolk.ru/2017/08/31/владимир-каганский-хаос-российского/.)
The main institutions holding the USSR and now the Russian Federation together are the force structures and the military-industrial complex which cut across the administrative and regional divisions of the country. “For the authorities of Russia today, the regions are an opposition,” but the regions cannot win out in the short term, Kagansky says.
Over time, however, “the regionalization of the Russian Federation is already an irreversible process. The main distinction from the regionalization of the USSR is the absence [in Russia] of a region which is able to claim and genially control ‘the indivisible inheritance’ (Moscow’s pretenses in this regard are insufficiently funded).”
Writing just before Putin came to power, the geographer offers a spectrum of five scenarios for this regionalist process:
1. “Revenge (USSR), restoration, re-militarization, attempts at military control over the main part of the USSR, permanent conflicts.”
2. “A world of regions and a center-mediator” in Moscow which “plays the role of mediator between the regions of the Russian Federation, the CIS countries, the rest of the world, and the armed forces. The functions of the center are financial, judicial, and formally legal.”
3. “The Russian Federation as a rickety superstructure over regions that are independent in varying degrees and in part states preserving control over strategic forces.”
4. “A minimal Russia. The preservation of the Russian Federation as a state on a small part of the former territory with the rest being independent. The outlines of ‘the new Russia’ will be defined by the dislocation of strategic forces, the resource-industrial base, and conflicts with the regions.”
5. “Each region for itself. A multitude of practically independent equal state regions (including coalitions) without a center. Moscow will be converted into a city state.” This situation will also be “unstable.”
More generally, Kazansky says, the process of regionalization is destabilizing, but that destabilization will have the effect not of limiting it but of accelerating the process. And consequently, regionalization “will continue, involving both new levels of the hierarchy and also new territories which for the time being have only weakly manifested this trend.”
All this is because, the geographer argues, “the Russian space is a Great Semi-Periphery, that is, a sum of border regions.” It includes within its borders the peripheries of various other projects but has no real center of its own. Thus, “the phenomena are within the Russian space, but their focus is outside its borders.”
This “poly-periphery is also a syncretic one,” he says. It doesn’t have natural borders, a natural center – “Moscow is 20 times closer to the Western border than to the Eastern one. In fact, “all the leading centers of the territory are situated in its border regions and/or borders but are poorly connected with each other.”
The radical centralism of the Russian state is incompatible over time with this arrangement. The state is not held together by tight bindings. And Kazansky concludes that “the general construction of the Russian space is a carcass of several powerful centers connected hierarchically. An external ring and an internal deposit of centers.”
Or to put it in a more lapidary way, Russia has “centers on the periphery and a periphery in the center.”