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Unformatted text preview: The Russian Heartland Revisited: An Assessment of
Michael Bradshaw and Jessica Prendergrast1 Abstract: The concept of “Russian Heartland,” elaborated previously by Hooson (1964) for
the USSR on the basis of Mackinder’s (1919) forecast of the emergence of a land-based global power controlling the center of the Eurasian landmass, is revisited by two British geographers in the new economic, demographic, and political context of post-Soviet Russia. Using
many of the same indicators as Hooson some 40 years earlier, they attempt to identify areas of
strength and weakness in Russia’s contemporary geography, examining in particular the
extent to which it is consolidating its “effective national territory.” The focus is on how
present obstacles to this consolidation pose a security threat to Russia and neighboring states.
Journal of Economic Literature, Classification Numbers: F02, O10, P20, R11. 21 figures, 3
tables, 67 references. Key words: Russian Heartland, territorial cohesion, national economy,
centralization, regional change. INTRODUCTION: THE ORIGINS OF THE HEARTLAND L ast year marked the centenary of Sir Halford Mackinder’s (1904) seminal article on
“The Geographical Pivot of History,” published in the Geographical Journal of the
Royal Geographical Society in London. The original paper did not use the term “Heartland”;
rather it was the later book Democratic Ideals and Reality, published in the aftermath of the
World War I in 1919, which contained his famous dictum: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland: Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island: Who rules the
World-Island commands the World (see Mackinder, 1919/1962, p. 150). Mackinder’s analysis depicted a historical struggle between sea-based and land-based power in which the
defensive characteristics of the Eurasian landmass afforded its occupiers a natural strategic
Through his publications over an almost 40-year period between 1904 and 1943,
Mackinder constantly revised his notion of the Heartland in light of the tragic consequences
of two World Wars. Writing in 1943, he stated: “For our present purpose it is sufficiently
accurate to say that the territory of the U.S.S.R. is equivalent to the Heartland, except in
one direction” (Mackinder, 1943/1962, p. 269). Excluded were the eastern regions of the
Soviet Union, which he identified as “Lenaland” after its central feature, the Lena River. To
Mackinder it constituted “an area of three and three-quarter million square miles, but a
1Respectively, Professor of Human Geography (and Head of the Department of Geography) and Research
Associate, The University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, UK, LE1 7RH; emails: [email protected];
[email protected] The research presented in this article was funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research
Council, award number: RES-223-25-0039. Further details about the project can be found at: http://
Eurasian Geography and Economics, 2005, 46, No. 2, pp. 83-122.
Copyright © 2005 by V. H. Winston & Son, Inc. All rights reserved. 84 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS population of only some six millions, of whom almost five millions are settled along the
transcontinental railroad from Irkutsk to Vladivostok. In the remainder of this territory there
are on the average over three square miles for every inhabitant. The rich natural resources—
timber, water power and minerals—are as yet practically untouched (ibid.). Mackinder’s
final assessment of the “Soviet Heartland” in 1943 was: “The Heartland is the greatest
natural fortress on earth, for the first time in history it is manned by a garrison sufficient in
number and quality” (ibid., p. 273).
Our current research is not concerned with the detail of Mackinder’s geopolitical vision,
nor the influence of his thinking on Cold War strategists, which was significant. Rather this
paper, and the paper by Andrei Treivish (2005) that follows are concerned with the internal
configuration of the “Soviet Heartland,” now the “Russian Heartland,” and in particular the
impact that recent economic, demographic, and political changes are having on Russia’s
occupation of its national territory. This concern has its intellectual origins in a book published 40 years ago by another British geographer, namely David Hooson’s A New Soviet
Heartland? (Hooson, 1964).
Published at the height of the Cold War, the goal of Hooson’s analysis was “to attempt to
identify just those areas of the ‘East’ or Heartland, where economic strength is really being
built up” (Hooson, 1964, p. 121). This short book was the summation of research published
at the beginning of the decade in the Geographical Journal, some 20 years after Mackinder
had proclaimed the effective occupation of the Heartland by the U.S.S.R. (Hooson, 1960,
1962). In his analysis, Hooson sought to map the Soviet Union’s eastward expansion as a
counter to what he saw as the “monumental vagueness” that was found in Soviet and Western
commentary on the Soviet Union’s “Eastern regions.” He introduced the concept of “Effective National Territory,” which he defined in a subsequent text on the Soviet Union as: “that
major part of the country which consistently produces a surplus in relation to its population
and which, by implication, is therefore supporting the rest of the country in a real sense”
(Hooson, 1966, pp. 342-343). In his heartland analysis, Hooson employed six criteria to
determine the extent to which particular regions contributed to the Soviet Union’s economic,
military, and political power. These were: (1) scale of contribution to the national economy
as a whole; (2) rate of population (especially city) growth; (3) relative importance of accessible resources; (4) economic specialization, which will necessarily, in many cases, involve a
combination of agricultural and industrial specialisms; (5) a certain community of historical
associations; and (6) ethnic considerations where they actually loom large in the distinctiveness of a region (Hooson, 1964, p. 15).
By assessing the contemporary geography of the Soviet Union in the early 1960s he was
able to divide the territory into three regions (Fig. 1). The E stablished European Core
accounted for 40 percent of the Soviet population and industrial output and remained economically vital to the nation’s power, but was growing at a much slower rate than the second
region, the Expanding Volga-Baykal Zone. This region, which was further subdivided into
the Volga-Ural, Ural-Ob’, and Central Siberian regions, accounted for a little more than a
quarter of the total Soviet population and agricultural output and about a third of its industry.
But it was growing rapidly and gaining ground on the European Core. The first two regions
combined “accounted for more than two-thirds of the Soviet population, at least three quarters of its industrial and agricultural output, and some four-fifths of the accessible industrial
energy and raw materials” (Hooson, 1964, p. 16). The remaining regions were described as
the Marginal Zone, a “heterogeneous collection of regions, spreading over two-thirds of the
Soviet area but possessing less than a third of its population, and a much smaller proportion
of national production and resources” (Hooson, 1964, pp. 16-17). BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 85 Fig. 1. Hooson’s regional groupings. The bulk of the book is then taken up with an analysis of the national framework of
economy and settlement and a more detailed analysis of the sub-regions of the Volga-Baykal
zone. In the concluding section, entitled “Soviet Power—and Mackinder,” Hooson considered the implications of his analysis for the Soviet Union’s economic and political status. He
noted: “The most fundamental of all the elements of national power is sheer location on the
globe. Although this is often regarded as absolute and immutable, it is in reality relative to
the other parts of the world and its significance changes as they change, and therefore has to
be constantly reassessed” (Hooson, 1964, p. 117). While acknowledging the continuing absolute dominance of the European Core, he stressed that the Volga-Baykal was the new center
of dynamism and the source of the Soviet Union’s future power. He concluded:
. . . whatever superior locational assets in terms of the modern economy may be
attributed, and rightly, to the Ukraine and the Moscow region, there are a number of
compelling reasons—ideological, nationalistic and strategic, but also economic—
which make it more likely that we will be witnessing for some time a steady easterly
drift of industrial population along the trail blazed by its agricultural forerunners
less than a lifetime ago. Finally, it seems certain that the Soviet Union as a superpower will, on balance, be strengthened rather than weakened by making full use of
the whole of its economically usable triangle, rather than just its long-established
base in Europe (Hooson, 1964, 126).
HOOSON’S HEARTLAND REVISITED
The purpose of this paper is to employ a revised version of Hooson’s original analytical
framework to assess Russia’s New Heartland. At the time the original analysis was 86 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS conducted the Soviet Union’s eastward expansion had yet to reach its zenith. The late 1960s
and 1970s saw the crash development of the West Siberian oil and gas fields and the construction of a series of huge hydroelectric power stations and associated heavy industrial
centers along the Angara-Yenisey river system. Finally, the 1980s saw the construction of the
Baykal-Amur Mainline, a railway aimed at making accessible those marginal regions of
Mackinder’s Lenaland. There is, perhaps, a certain irony in the fact that the population of the
Soviet Union’s eastern regions peaked just as the Soviet empire collapsed. In fact, rather than
strengthening the economy, the rising costs of Siberian resource development were a major
cause of the economic slowdown in the Soviet Union during the 1980s (Aganbegyan, 1988).
The current analysis seeks to map changes in the effective occupation of Russia’s
national territory from 1989 to 2002, a period that encompasses the final days of the Soviet
era and the subsequent decade of transformation. The year 1989 is chosen as a reference
point as it was the year of the last Soviet census. The year 2002 is chosen as the end point as
it was the year of the first post-Soviet Russian census. Unfortunately, while there is a degree
of continuity between the Soviet and post-Soviet period when it comes to demographic data,
the same cannot be said for socio-economic and political indicators. For understandable reasons, there simply are not sufficient time series data to chart the changing geography of
Russia’s Heartland continuously throughout the 1990s. Just as the economic and political
system changed dramatically, so did the kinds of information needed to monitor that change.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was still a shortage of information on the regional
dimensions of Russia’s economic and political geography. Conversely, later during the 1990s
there was a virtual avalanche of new information on political parties, voting patterns, and
indicators of regional socio-economic status. This spawned an entire industry collating data,
creating typologies, and presenting rankings;2 however, few researchers took the time to step
back and analyze the bigger picture.
The current project has precisely this objective, assessing the geographical consequences of Russia’s recent economic, political, and demographic transformations for the
effective occupation of its national territory. Furthermore, as this paper is part of a broader
Research Programme on New Security Challenges sponsored by the UK’s Economic and
Social Research Council (ESRC), we also are interested in how challenges to Russia’s effective occupation of its territory pose security threats to the Russian state (both federal and
regional), to Russia’s neighbors, and to the international community. Rather than focusing on
state power, we are concerned with how the weakness of the Russian state, despite its current
desire to recentralize, is creating political, economic, and social tensions within the country
and is also presenting opportunities for illegal activities ranging from smuggling to illegal
arms sales and human trafficking.
Given the dramatically different circumstances and the different geographical frame, the
Russian Federation rather than the Soviet Union, it is not practical, nor desirable, to simply
replicate the six criteria used in Hooson’s original analysis. Instead, we have modified the
original criteria as shown below:
• Scale of contribution to the national economy
• Economic specialization and resource dependence
2The most durable of these has been Ekspert Magazine’s Regional Investment Rating [http://www.expert.ru/
expert/ratings/regions/]. BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 87 Political Dimensions
• Ethnic considerations
• Population growth/decline
• City growth/decline
Some of these criteria, principally the economic and demographic dimensions, lend
themselves to quantitative analysis; the political dimension (beyond the area of electoral
geography) does not, and is the subject of more qualitative and discursive analysis. This
makes direct comparison across the dimensions rather difficult, as not all dimensions can be
mapped and then compared, as is the case with layers in a Geographic Information System
(GIS). The more qualitative aspects of the political dimensions are analyzed via a review of
academic research, whereas the more quantitative dimensions of economy and demography
allow analysis of secondary statistical data, as well as analysis of previous research. In the
latter case, we have made use of a GIS to store, analyze, and map socio-economic, electoral,
and demographic data. Just as Hooson’s analysis was an exercise in mapping the contours of
the New Soviet Heartland, so we have sought to map the various dimensions of the New
Russian Heartland. However, given the complexity of the current situation we have stopped
short of producing a definitive map delimiting the boundaries of the Heartland.
As will become clear from this paper, one of the problems with the contemporary Heartland is that it is fragmented and there is limited spatial coincidence between the various
dimensions. We have evoked the European Commission’s notion of “territorial cohesion” in
seeking to assess the consequences of the contemporary situation.3 In the contemporary
Russian context we are interested in whether or not uneven development, increasing disparities, and territorial fragmentation are threatening the cohesion of the Russian state. The analysis that follows is organized according to the three dimensions identified above. The first
section examines the economic dimensions, the second the political dimensions and the final
section the demographic dimensions. Our analysis affords a great deal more attention to the
political dimension than Hooson’s original analysis, for reasons that should become obvious.
During the 1990s issues relating to center-region relations and the status of the ethnic republics dominated analysis of the regional dimensions of transformation in Russia and clearly
threatened the territorial cohesion of the Russian state. These analytical sections are then
followed by a discussion of our findings and a short conclusion.4
ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS OF THE NEW RUSSIAN HEARTLAND
Much has been written on the regional economic dimensions of Russia’s transformation
from a planned economy to some form of market economy, and a good deal of work remains
3In its Third Periodic Report on economic and social cohesion in the European Union, the European Commission (2004, p. 27) viewed the objective of “territorial cohesion” as “. . . to achieve a more balanced development by
reducing existing disparities, avoiding territorial imbalances and by making both sectoral policies that have a spatial
impact and regional policy more coherent. The concern is also to improve territorial integration and encourage cooperation between regions.”
4In additional to this paper, a number of related working papers and a bibliography can be found on the project
website (see note 1). 88 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS to be done.5 Our purpose here is to assess how the changes that have taken place in the
Russian economy since the early 1990s have impacted the distribution of economic activity.
Such an analysis is far from straightforward and faces a number of data problems. First and
foremost, measuring economic change from the late 1990s to the early years of the current
decade means comparing statistics generated by the Soviet planned economy with those now
being produced to measure Russia’s market economy. Second, while a huge amount of data
now are available on the Russian economy, concerns remain about the role of the “shadow
economy,” the distorting effect of domestic prices (in comparison to world prices), and the
impact of certain tax management schemes, such as transfer pricing (discussed below).
Third, while we have seen no major changes in the territorial-administrative structure of the
Russian Federation, seven presidential districts6 have been introduced in place of the 11 economic regions, which has required the reworking of summary data. Finally, the high-inflation
environment of the 1990s further complicates the use of value-based time series data, making
it more sensible to use physical measures such as employment and actual volumes of goods
produced, although the latter is problematic in the service sector. Because of all of these
limitations, we have sought to keep things as simple as possible.
The economic criteria employed by Hooson focused on the relative contribution of the
various regions to the national economy, the nature of economic specialization, and the
extent of the accessible resource base. At the time of his study the Soviet economy was still
growing, and while he accepted that in absolute terms the bulk of the Soviet economy was
located in the “European Core,” Hooson identified the most dynamic regions as those in his
“Volga-Baikal Zone.” The context for our analysis is quite different, as between 1990 and
1998, the year of the financial crisis, Russia’s industrial production fell by more than 50 percent and its GDP fell to about 60 percent of its peak in 1989 (Maurseth, 2003, p. 1167). However, since 1998 the economy has staged an impressive rebound. In the five years between
1998 and the end of 2003 the economy grew by 38 percent, and unemployment has fallen
from 18 percent in 1998 to around 8 percent (OECD, 2004; World Bank 2004). However,
despite the recent recovery, the fact remains that Russia’s economy is a good deal smaller
than it was in 1991, although just how much smaller is impossible to determine. Furthermore, the years of “transitional recession” in the early 1990s have brought about significant
structural changes in Russia’s regional economies. While the macro-economic context is
important, we are most interested in how the restructuring of the Russian economy has
affected the contours of the “effective national territory” and whether changes in the economic landscape pose a threat to territorial cohesion.
Restructuring and Regional Change
It is widely recognized that 1998 marked a watershed in Russia’s economic transformation. Between 1991 and 1998 the emphasis was upon the consequences of transitional recession (see Hanson and Bradshaw, 2000 and Westlund et al., 2000). Analysis of regional
economic change focused on explaining regional variations in economic performance (see
for example, Sutherland and Hanson, 1996 and van Selm, 1998). During this period it
seemed that inherited economic structure was one of the most important factors explaining
the relative degree of regional economic decline. As van Selm (1998, pp. 617-618) noted,
5See Bradshaw and Treyvish (2000) for a review of the English- and Russian-language research on regional
economic change in Russia during the 1990s.
6Northwest, Central, Volga, Southern (North Caucasus), Ural, Siberia, and Far East. BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 89 Fig. 2. Industrial production in 1998 relative to 1990 (1990 = 100). “regions with the right industries did better than regions with the wrong industries.” As
Figure 2 shows,7 there was a clear northerly and easterly orientation to the regions that
suffered the least. In sectoral terms, it was Russia’s resource regions that weathered the
recession the best, while regions specializing in manufacturing and light industry (most
prevalent in European Russia) experienced significant decline. Between 1990 and 1997,
according to official figures, production in the fuel and energy complex fell by 32 percent,
compared with declines of 59 percent in machine-building and 86 percent in light industry
(Sutherland et al., 2000, p. 46).
The recent situation is rather different (Fig. 3), as new centers of growth have emerged
in European Russia. These are regions benefiting from a market-oriented recovery in
manufacturing, particularly in the food-processing industries, but the resource sector remains
the engine of recovery.8 The cumulative impact of change from 1990 to 2001 is shown in
Official data suggest that the industrial economy has declined and Russia’s service economy has expanded. More specifically, industry’s share of GNP (in 2000 prices) fell from
38.6 percent in 1990 to 32.5 percent in 2001 (Dynkin 2002, p. 54), while the share of total
employment in industry decreased from 30.3 percent in 1990 to 22.5 percent in 2002
(World Bank, 2004, pp. 76-77). Conversely, employment in market services increased from
7In Figures 2 through 8, data for lower-order autonomous regions (okrugs and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast)
are included in the higher-level unit (i.e., the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug is included with the rest of Perm’
Oblast, and both regions are shaded as one unit). Unless indicated otherwise, all the data used in these maps has been
obtained from various editions of the Goskomstat publication Regiony Rossii.
8Over the past three years, the resource sector has accounted for 70 percent of the growth in industrial output
(OECD, 2004, p. 21). 90 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Fig. 3. Industrial production in 2001 relative to 1998 (1998 = 100). Fig. 4. Industrial production in 2001 relative to 1990 (1990 = 100). BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 91 16.7 percent in 1990 to 26.6 percent in 2002. These data tend to support a process of
economic restructuring entailing de-industrialization and service sector growth. However,
the aforementioned World Bank study, subsequently reported on in the recent OECD Economic Survey of Russia (2004, p. 20) suggests that official figures significantly underestimate the role of industrial production and overstate the share of the service sector: official
statistics for 2003 show that industry accounted for 27 percent of Russia’s GDP and services
60 percent (ibid., p. 20). A major contributing factor is likely the widespread practice of
transfer pricing in the resource sector.9 Using Canadian trade margins, the World Bank
(2004) re-assessed the value of Russia’s resource production, and as a result the share of
industry in GDP in 2003 increased to 41 percent, while the share of services declined to
46 percent. Consequently, rather than de-industrialization, what appears to be occurring is
“primitivization,” as Russia’s industrial base has retreated into the resource sector. In other
words, the manufacturing economy has experienced significant decline and limited recovery,
while the resource economy experienced less significant decline and recently has exhibited
appreciable growth. This differential performance has important geographical consequences,
as we demonstrate below.
Contribution to the National Economy
Returning to Hooson’s original criteria, we can see that economic transformation has
resulted in shrinkage of the national economy and an increased reliance on the resource economy, which has changed the extent to which individual regions contribute to the national
economy. As we shall see in a later section, the 1990s also witnessed significant changes in
the distribution of population. This sub-section considers regional variations in levels of economic development and the relationship between economic activity and population distribution. Table 1 provides summary data on territory, population, and economic activity by
presidential district. On the basis of the analysis conducted, we have further reduced the
seven districts to a two-fold division between a core region comprising the Central, Northwest, Volga, and Urals districts and a periphery region consisting of the Southern (or North
Caucasus), Siberian, and Far Eastern districts. We are all too aware that such a macroregionalization hides a high degree of heterogeneity, but for the present we are concerned
with macro-scale change; our analysis also considers variation both between and within
The data in Table 1 show the clear imbalance between territory and population, the core
accounting for 30.2 per cent of Russian territory, but 73.8 percent of economic activity in
2001.10 These data suggest a slight increase in the share of population residing in the periphery. This is examined in a later section, but as is clear from the federal district–level data, this
is because the increased population share of the Southern District more than compensates for
the decline in the share of Siberia and the Far East. As will be clear shortly, two factors
explain the increasing economic dominance of the core: the economic weight of Moscow and
9Transfer pricing typically occurs when a resource-producing enterprise within a larger holding company
sells its output to a trading company within the same holding company for an artificially low domestic price (which
depresses the value of the output of the resource producer). The trading company then exports the product at the
world market price and the transaction is recorded as a service activity (thus increasing the level of service activity).
For an alternative method of calculating value-added in the oil and gas sector and its contribution to Russian GDP,
see Kuboniwa et al. (2005).
10This represents an increase from 69.9 percent in 1990. 92 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Table 1. Regional Distribution of Territory, Population, and Economy by Federal
District and Macroregion, 1989–1990 to 2001–2002 (percentage of Russian total)a
district Territory Population,
1989 census NMP,
2002 census GRP,
Far Eastern 3.8
30.0 aNMP= Net Material Product; GRP= Gross Regional Product; Core = Central, Northwest,
Volga, and Urals districts; Periphery= Southern, Siberian and Far Eastern districts.
Sources: Compiled by authors from Goskomstat RF, 1991 and Gosmkomstat Rossii, 2003,
pp. 48-41. the inclusion of Tyumen’ Oblast in the Urals Federal District.11 To identify the processes
underlying these summary data, one must examine oblast-level patterns.
Figure 5 examines changes in the degree of territorial concentration of economic activity
in 1990 and 2001. The results should be treated with caution because NMP is a Soviet-era
measure that underestimated the contribution of the service sector and did not include some
aspects of the defence sector.12 However, these are the only data available for the late Soviet
period. In addition, we only have data for 73 regions, rather than the 89 federal subjects in
2001. What the graph shows is relatively lower levels of concentration and variation in 1990
(the standard deviation for percentage of national production is 1.4), when the top 10 regions
in aggregate accounted for 39.3 percent of national production. By comparison, the situation
in 2001, which uses a measure more attuned to a market economy, shows higher degrees of
concentration and variation (the standard deviation is 2.4). In 2001, the top 10 regions
account of 50.7 percent of total GRP.13 Table 2 lists the top 10 regions in 1990 and 2001.
There is surprisingly little change in the composition of the listing, but the regions’ overall
share has risen substantially, largely due to the increasing significance of Moscow and
Tyumen’. The situation in 2001 also suggests that the remaining regions contributed only
46.1 percent of Russia gross regional product.
Comparison of the bottom (lowest-ranking) 10 regions is complicated by the fact that
the 1990 data are only for 73 regions; however, the majority of those at the bottom in both
11Previously, Tyumen’ Oblast and its constituent autonomous okrugs were included in the West Siberian economic region, though in an earlier version of system of economic regionalization, they were part of the Urals. Obviously, the significance of the oil and gas industry in these regions has a major impact on our macro-level analysis.
12The net result is that it is biased toward the resource and machine-building sectors; furthermore, it is subject
to the distortions of the Soviet pricing system, which undervalued resources and overvalued manufactured goods.
13 Moscow’s share of national economic activity appears to have doubled from 10.0 percent in 1990 to
20.7 percent in 2001 (Table 2). BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 93 Fig. 5. Decile distribution of Net Material Product (NMP) and Gross Regional Product (GRP) in
1990 and 2001. Table 2. Economic Activity of Top 10 Regions, 1990 and 2001
Republic of Bashkortostan
Top 10 as percent of total Percent of
NMP in 1990
Republic of Tatarstan
Republic of Bashkortostan
Top 10 as percent of total Percent of
GRP in 2001
50.7 aA direct comparison with 1990 would include the Khanty-Mansy and Yamal-Nenets autonomous okrugs with
the remainder of Tyumen’ Oblast (as Tyumen’ Oblast); the top 10 would then account for 53.3 percent.
Sources: Compiled by authors from Goskomstat RF, 1991 and Goskomstat Rossii, 2003, pp. 48-41. sets of data are republics and regions in the Southern and Siberian districts. What is abundantly clear is that, with a few notable exceptions, Russia’s republics are among the poorest
regions in the country; as will become apparent later, in most instances their significance
does not come from their economic weight. Figure 6 presents information on GRP per capita
in 2001 at the oblast level. This measure of economic output per person is useful, as it
illustrates the mismatch between population and economy that has been amplified by 94 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Fig. 6. Gross Regional Product per capita in Russia’s regions, 2001. developments during the 1990s. In a recent analysis of regional economic performance in
Russia, Aton Capital (2004, p. 4) concluded that “. . . very few regions have moved significantly up or down the ranking ladder and the poorest regions appear to be caught in what
could be termed a poverty trap despite registering some growth gains.”
The clear northern and eastern bias in terms of GRP per capita points to the increased
significance of the resource sector, which dominates those regions, as well as their relatively
sparse population. Perhaps of greater significance are the lower levels of economic activity
that dominate Russia’s southern borders and the European core region. As is explained later,
the southern borders have been the destination of migrants from the bordering post-Soviet
states and these regions are among the poorest in Russia, placing additional burden on an
already depressed economic situation. The same can be said for the southern regions of the
Volga, Urals, and Siberian districts. The contrast would be even starker in a threedimensional representation of GRP per capita, with Moscow standing out clearly against an
otherwise lower than national average Central District, and Tyumen’ Oblast towering above
surrounding regions, especially Russia’s southern borderlands.
In summary, compared to Hooson’s analysis of a dominant European core and dynamic
Volga-Baykal region, the current economic geography of Russia is far less impressive. The
dominance of the European regions of Russia is entirely due to the overwhelming economic
significance of Moscow and the contribution of a handful of major industrial city-regions,
such as St. Petersburg, Samara, and Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk), while Russia’s apparent
economic recovery seems to have been achieved by resource production in sparsely populated northern and eastern regions. In their recent analysis Aton Capital (2004, p. 4) concluded: BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 95 A glance at the 20 largest regions in terms of GRP shows one of the key common
denominators is a large urban centre (12 of the regions have a city with at least 1 mn
people). Large cities boast a large consumer base providing potential for the retail,
wholesale, and construction industries. Additionally, a significant share of GRP
coming from natural resource–based production, be it oil, gas, metals, gold or diamonds, has a clear positive correlation with the region’s GRP size.
The significance of Russia’s resource economy is subject of the final subsection on the
Economic Specialization and Resource Dependence
It is widely recognized that Russia’s economic recovery has been achieved in large part
by the increased export earnings of its resource sectors, not just oil and gas, but ferrous and
nonferrous metals, forest products, and precious stones. In 2003 resources accounted for
67 percent of Russia’s exports by value and oil and gas alone 54 percent (OECD, 2004,
p. 35). In 2003, 37 percent of Government revenues originated from hydrocarbons (World
Bank, 2004, p. 8). There is a surprising continuity here with the late Soviet period when those
same exports bankrolled imports of Western machinery, equipment, and grain. Then such
exports merely delayed the collapse of the Soviet economy, whereas today the concern is that
Russia’s current reliance on resource exports is postponing a potentially painful period of
economic adjustment, as the Russian Government has become complacent about reforms and
domestic producers have not invested in increasing their competitiveness. In short Russia is
now suffering from the symptoms of the “resource curse.”14 Both the World Bank (2004) and
OECD (2004) studies discussed above, as well as pronouncements by President Putin and his
various ministers and advisers have acknowledged the significance of resource export earnings to the performance of the Russian economy as well as the need to diversify the economy
to reduce the consequences of the inevitable future decline in export earnings, either because
of a fall in resource prices and/or the inability of Russia’s resource producers to maintain
export production. The latter is likely to result from a combination of rising domestic consumption and a failure to maintain domestic production due to inadequate investment in new
capacity.15 The debate continues to rage as to whether Russia’s resource wealth is a blessing
or a curse, but our primarily concern here is to consider the geographical dimensions of
Russia’s resource abundance. Figure 7 shows the regional distribution of economic output
attributable to the “resource industries”16 in Russia in 2002 and Table 3 provides details on
the industrial structure of those regions dominated by the resource sector.
These 21 regions are defined as “resource regions” because more than 40 percent of their
industrial output comes from one or more of the fuels, ferrous metal, nonferrous metal, and
forestry sectors. As is also clear from Table 3, in most of these regions the share of industry in
GRP is higher than the Russian average; furthermore, in most instances one of the four
resource sectors accounts for the majority of regional output. Thus, these are classic resource
regions, narrowly focused on and highly reliant upon the exploitation one or two commodi14See Kim (2003) for a fuller explanation and Hill (2004a) for an analysis of the significance of Russia’s
15See Leijonheilm and Larsson (2004) and Dienes (2004) for recent assessments.
16Defined here as the mineral fuels (e.g., oil, gas, coal), ferrous metals, nonferrous metals, and the forest
industry. 96 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Fig. 7. Percentage of industrial production attributable to the “resource industries” in
ties, be it oil, natural gas, steel, or aluminium. In aggregate, these regions accounted for
33.3 percent of Russia’s total gross regional product (2001) and 42.2 percent of Russian
exports (2002); they are home to 26.9 percent of Russia’s population and account for
61.4 percent of its territory. Geographically, they are predominantly located in the northern
and eastern regions of the country. As will become apparent in the next section, they include
some of Russia’s more strident republics, which have been able to capture a significant
amount of the economic rent generated by their resource economies for use in promoting their
own national identities. But perhaps the most significant factor here is the limited control over
resource revenues exercised by the constituent autonomous regions within Tyumen’ Oblast.
The New Russian Heartland that has emerged from our analysis thus far is structurally
and geographically quite different from Hooson’s New Soviet Heartland of the 1960s. It is a
product of Russia’s natural resource wealth and export potential rather than its domestic
industrial capacity. Consequently there is a clear mismatch between those regions that carry
the greatest economic weight and those that are the most populous. As shall become evident
in a subsequent section on demographic dimensions, this is a situation that appears likely to
become more pronounced in the future. The next section considers how Russia’s transformation has resulted in renewed tensions between Moscow and the regions, producing a political
asymmetry that needs to be mapped onto our economic analysis.
REGIONALISM AND ETHNIC CONSIDERATIONS
Russia’s ethno-territorial federal structure reflects a confused ideological understanding
of nation—a part of the Soviet inheritance that reified primordial ethnic identities as BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 97 Table 3. Russia’s Resource Regions Region Russia
as a pct.
share of as a pct.
of total Fuels
GRP in of GRP,
metals Nonferrous Forestry
metals 8.1 7.7 0.4
1.8 Source: Calculated by the authors from data in Goskomstat Rossii, 2003, pp. 38-41, 324-325, and 418-421. permanent and unchangeable, linked them to specific territories (or homelands), and attributed to them political authority. This legacy left Russia with little choice but to adopt a federal structure that replicated the Soviet ethno-territorial system. To have done otherwise (e.g.,
to adopt a wholly territorial system) would almost certainly have resulted in widespread
unrest and protest in the ethnic republics and possibly hastened the break-up of the Russian
Federation. Given this legacy, it is hardly surprising that half-hearted state-led efforts have
failed to instil popular acceptance of a multi-ethnic inclusive civic understanding of the
Russian nation as a single political community, a conception that is rejected by Russian and
non-Russian ethno-nationalists alike.17
Identity alternatives, however, need not be sources of instability, and rather can coexist
in a defined hierarchy—for example, ethnic Englishness (fairly) happily coexists with civic
17“National” as used in this paper always relates to a civic understanding of nation, unless otherwise specified,
for example, as ethno-national. Likewise region, unless otherwise indicated, is used in the sense of Russia’s 89
administrative regional units. 98 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Britishness, and European identity with both. However, Russia is a multi-ethnic country
where significant numbers believe self-determination rights are collectively engendered by
ethno-cultural features. In this context a strong civic identity would serve to legitimize the
political authority of the state leadership and the country’s borders. In its absence, a substantial part of the body politic may perceive an alternative identity conception as a more
legitimate vehicle of self-determination. In Britain, ethnic Welshness, Englishness, and
Scottishness are all politicized to a degree, but a clear hierarchy defers the ethnic to the civic,
and places civic Britishness above all three. In Russia, by contrast, the civic ideal is barely
accepted by the state leadership, let alone the population, and a huge number of different
identity conceptions, each related to different territorial configurations, jostle for hierarchical
supremacy, implicitly (or explicitly in Chechnya) challenging the legitimacy of both political
authority and territorial borders.
Identity conceptions in Russia operate at a variety of spatial scales; they can be primarily
civic, ethnic, or regional but all have an integral territorial dimension. Some of those identity
arenas, as illustrated in Figure 8, inhabit a space larger than the state, be they anti-national
(for instance, global), supra-national (Orthodox, Islamic, or Soviet), or trans-national
(Eastern-Slavic, Pan-Mongolian, or Eurasian). Others nestle within the boundaries of the
state (sub-national), and may be intra-regional (Siberian or North Caucasian), singularly
regional (Tatarstani or Muscovite), or subregional (Cherkess or Lezgin). Many of these
identity conceptions crosscut one another and, to varying degrees, the boundaries of the
Russian civic conception.
The potential strength of ethnic identities in Russia had previously raised concerns that
the Federation might collapse in a manner akin to the Soviet Union, and have reinforced the
perception that ethnicity provides the crucial identity challenge to a Russian civic national
idea. Indeed the threat to state cohesion and stability that non-Russian ethnic groups appear
to pose undoubtedly played some role in the decentralized asymmetric federalism that developed under Yel’tsin. Constitutional asymmetry granted additional rights to the republics to
determine their own form of state power (mostly elected but authoritarian presidents), adopt
their own constitutions and laws, and so on, while a series of bilateral agreements further
reinforced and codified this formal asymmetry and granted concessions in areas such as selfgovernment, tax and export contributions, natural resource ownership, selection of judiciary
and procuracy, the stationing of conscripts, republican “citizenship,” and cultural-linguistic
All things being equal, it appeared that ethnicity, and more specifically republican status,
could be used to win certain privileges and rights. However, the reality was (and is) of all
things unequal, from economic capacities and resources (as detailed above), religiouscultural traditions, and ethnic and other demographics (see next section), to geographical
location and elite relations. Among all these factors of asymmetry, institutionalized constitutional status based on ethnic self-determination was but one bargaining tool. Moreover,
asymmetry abounded, not just between the republics and oblasts, but among the republics
themselves. The fact that all republics were not party to bilateral treaties indicated that
ethnicity alone was not the only issue. Rather economic factors figured heavily in Russian
federal asymmetry and less impoverished regions, especially those possessing substantial
natural resources, were able to win more concessions from the federal government. In particular, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Sakha (Yakutia), all identified as resource regions in
Table 3, each were able to use their economic strength to negotiate advantages denied to
others. Fig. 8. Some possible identity alternatives in contemporary Russian space. The ellipse representing the Soviet identity arena
could have been placed in a number of ways, cross-cutting virtually all other conceptions. BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST
99 100 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Nonetheless it is misleading to attribute too much importance to economic wealth. In the
1990s the most important republics were economically powerful not necessarily because of
their wealth per se, but because of what they could threaten thereby in the name of an ethnocultural group. Ethno-nationalist issues were organically less dominant in some republics and
less well mobilized by elites in others. Both factors made a difference. The ethnic card was
less convincing a tool in republics such as Komi, Karelia, and Khakassia than in republics
such as Tyva, Tatarstan, and most of those in the North Caucasus (now the Southern Federal
District). Despite relative wealth, republics such as Komi and Karelia were able to extract
few concessions because they simply did not pose a viable threat to cohesion that needed
placating, whereas those republics that appeared most threatening economically (those that
figure in Tables 2 and 3) and ethnically were bought off using bilateral treaties and interbudgetary transfers, encouraging the powerful republics back into the fold and maintaining
state cohesion. Conversely, as the 1996 presidential election approached, fiscal appeasement
was used less to protect state cohesion and more to keep Yel’tsin in the presidency, in a
simple exchange of loyalty for money. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear that
many of Russia’s present problems today stem from the arrangements crafted by Yel’tsin to
stay in power, not just in terms of center-region relations, but the “loans for shares” deals that
handed over strategic state assets to the oligarchs for a fraction of their true value.
Putin’s approach, by contrast, even before the recent reforms, suggests that he does not
feel it so necessary to appease the republics, nor the oligarchs for that matter. He has moved
against both formal and informal asymmetries, but most notably against those republics that
were powerful under Yel’tsin, retracting many accrued advantages by insisting on legal harmonization, retaking control of the fiscal purse strings, canceling or failing to renew all but a
few bilateral treaties, and revoking many tax concessions in the process (for instance in
Tatarstan and Bashkortostan). However, this is part of the wider “re-centralization” that has
affected all of Russia’s regions. Putin seems nonetheless aware that high-profile leaders must
be kept on side and has made efforts to rein them in while avoiding too much direct confrontation, primarily by building patronage relationships. In so doing Putin has sent the message
that the ethnic card will not be directly rewarded.18 Putin thereby has prioritized stability
(and control) over freedom and democracy, in particular where the latter could allow the
revival of anti-Russian ethno-nationalism. Authoritarianism seems to be a lesser evil than
ethno-nationalism, from the perspective of stability at least.
In this regard it is questionable how much difference the reforms announced in the wake
of Beslan will actually make, in the ethnic republics at least. To a large degree republican
leaders are already effectively appointed by Putin, in that they have gained (or maintained
office) in exchange for loyalty to the center. Allowing stable authoritarian elites—most notably in Kalmykia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, and Bashkortostan (Hahn, 2003,
p. 116)—to retain power served Putin’s goal of stability well. The existence of wellestablished authoritarian leaderships, loyal to Putin, in potentially volatile ethnic republics,
arguably went some substantial way toward containing the potential political impact of any
ethno-centric backlash to Putin’s recentralizing efforts and his assault on republican sovereignty. This remains the case. If his goal is indeed stability, cohesion, and unity, Putin seems
little more likely to risk destabilising either the Volga or the North Caucasian republics by
18Moscow, for example, has not shied away from provoking an angry reaction in the Volga republics, tackling
controversial ethno-cultural issues such as bilingualism requirements for political office, Tatarstan’s adoption of the
Latin script, and the legality of headscarves in passport photos. BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 101 removing well-established ethnic leaders now, than when he chose to allow them a third term
rather than back alternative loyal but locally weaker candidates.19
Despite their usefulness in delivering votes (as demonstrated in the 2004 presidential
elections; e.g., see Marsh et al., 2004), authoritarian enclaves (be they “elected” or
appointed) in an ostensibly democratic state may not be effective in ensuring stability and
cohesion in the longer term, a lesson Putin perhaps may have learned from his Soviet predecessors. Coincidently or not, the poorest regions of Russia often also are ethnic republics,
and authoritarian leaderships tend not to be a recipe for the good governance. The socioeconomic hardships, restricted media freedom, and electoral manipulation (or a lack of electoral opportunity going forward) that so often characterize life in Russia’s republics would
seem reasonable targets for ethno-nationalist and other opposition, as indeed they were
during the later Soviet years. Half-hearted freedom and democracy have not proved a
successful recipe for stability in Russia’s recent past, particularly in the context of ethnic distinctiveness.
In the short term at least, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, with their controllable, loyal,
authoritarian elites do not appear willing (though they may yet be able) to threaten Russian
stability and cohesion. Other republics may presently have a greater potential to do so,
primarily those located on Russia’s periphery. A complex matrix of ethno-cultural, socioeconomic, and political factors coincide to destabilize Russia’s internal security and foreign
relations, most notably in the Southern Federal District where economically weak, povertystricken, ethnically diverse, often Islamic, predominantly borderland republics are potentially volatile. These republics, with external borders and majority ethnic populations, tend to
be the poorest in Russia, such that in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kalmykia more than 60 percent live below the subsistence level (Ross and Sakwa, 1999). Add to this that the North
Caucasus republics face issues arising from the Chechen conflict (weapons proliferation, terrorism, refugees) not to mention those arising from international borders (illegal migration,
drug trafficking, crime) and the likelihood of instability and potential volatility in the region
seems clear. In an international climate focused predominantly on radical Islamic terrorism,
volatility in a region where five of the most backward republics are titularly Islamic (Lavrov
and Makushkin, 2001, p. xxiv) could have import far beyond Russia’s borders (as indeed
have events in Beslan), impacting her international standing and giving these regions an
importance not presently matched by Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
In addressing the cohesion problem, Putin has, it seems, learned from Yel’tsin’s mistakes. By coming down hard on those republics that were the most powerful under Yel’tsin,
Putin has made it clear that status as an ethnic republic, being rich, being politically strong,
having a consolidated and established leadership, even being Islamic20, is not sufficient to
warrant preferential treatment. Rather he has sought to convey the message that status is a
reward for loyalty and that he, not the republican chiefs, calls the shots. This reward for
loyalty is simply made more explicit by recent reforms.
Economically poor, ethnically and confessionally divided republics with more volatile
elites are now the greater threat to Russia’s stability, and consequently it is these republics
19Ironically, this tactic too could misfire, since polling in Kalmykia and Tatarstan revealed that much of the
popular support for Putin’s reforms stemmed from a desire for a forced change to the authoritarian republican leadership, which did not seem possible under the existing “democratic” electoral system (Coalson, 2004).
20There is seemingly less threat in attacking Tatar-Bashkir Islam since it combines Muslim canons with liberal
ideas, and seeks to disassociate from the radical Islamicism, which is gaining a stronger foothold in the North
Caucasus and in Chechnya. 102 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS that are targeted for advantageous treatment by the center. Because these republics are
neither the wealthiest nor the most vocal, Putin has been able to allocate resources and favors
to them using a nuanced approach, under the cover of fiscal redistribution, equalization, and
poverty alleviation. By recentralizing fiscal finances, the federal government is able to redirect funds to the neediest republics in economic (and also stability) terms, without explicitly
appearing to privilege ethnicity or Islam, and thus to contain some of the resentment of nonrepublican regions that was so evident in the 1990s. The concerns of economic welfare and
preservation of national cohesion and political order now neatly coincide.
The process of cultural rebirth in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Sakha, as well as in the
North Caucasus and Siberia is substantial rather than merely functional, as witnessed in the
expansion of titular language education, the ethno-centric rewriting of histories, disproportionate titular political representation, and positive discrimination mechanisms for public
office, education, and industry. All in all these measures are serving to reinforce ethnic titular
identities and encourage re-identification with the titular group.21 Efforts to limit ethnocentrism in certain republics may well increase tensions both within the republics and vis-àvis the center, as dissatisfaction develops with the limited ethnic or regional voice in a
centralizing federation (Hahn, 2003, p. 149). Regional populations or elites may increasingly
regard either ethnically exclusive identities or regional multi-ethnic identities as more
legitimate bases for political authority than the central national version, particularly where
they are excluded from participating in regional elections by the reforms. In such a context it
is not hard to see how regional elites not in favor with the Kremlin might seek to maximize
power and authority by appealing to anti-center regionalist or ethno-nationalist rhetoric,
which will hardly reinforce stability, cohesion, or unity.
In a Russian context whereby the current territorial configuration (i.e., the Russian Federation at present) appears to many of its citizens to be failing in terms of identity, authority,
and efficacy22 it is not only identity conceptions built around exclusivist ethno-cultural
markers that may provide alternative bases for political self-determination. Regional identities, associated with a myriad of spatial scales from local to continental (or even the global),
may provide arenas of organization, mobilization, and governance.
Despite its strong sense of ethnic identity, Tatarstan need not resolve its identity conundrum in favor of exclusivist ethno-national policies or ideals (Giuliano, 2000, p. 296).
Indeed, its President Mintimer Shaimiyev, in outmaneuvering the ethno-nationalist elite, successfully reframed ethno-nationalist goals, building trans-ethnic support for republicanterritorial sovereignty and economic self-sufficiency by focusing on interests common to all
members of an inclusively defined “national community of Tatarstan” (ibid, p. 312, and see
also p. 308; Raviot, 1994, pp. 66, 71). What appears now to be emerging in Tatarstan,
appropriately perhaps given the republic’s ethnic demographics, is a regional identity
remarkably similar, in content if not scale, to that which the center is failing to cultivate on a
Russia-wide basis. It is a broadly civic identity that seeks to avoid alienating the many
ethnic peoples of the republic, while at the same time being built around markers that relate
most closely to Tatar ethnicity, culture, language, and history. Perhaps because it is able to
use Moscow as the “other,” the Tatar version seems better able to unify all its citizens at a
21Nationality data from the 2002 census reveal that the percentage of the population self-identifying as
“Russian” declined in all but five of Russia’s republics. See the demographics section in this paper for
22Identity, authority, and efficacy are the dimensions upon which the strength of the national territorial state
depends for its legitimacy (Hassner as cited in Paasi, 2003, p.109). BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 103 regional level, than is the Russian version. At present this emergent Tatar civic regional
identity is unconsolidated and the spatial extent of its political ambition uncertain. Figure 9
therefore displays a number of variations. Ethnic Tatars may view the region as homeland to
Tatars dispersed throughout the Russian Federation and even beyond, or may see Kazan’ as a
special historical center not just for ethnic Tatars or residents of Tatarstan but those in the
entire Volga-Ural region, including peoples of Tatar, Bashkir, Russian, Chuvash, Mordovian,
and Udmurt ethnicity. The latter conception concerns Bashkir ethno-nationalists and
maintains an ethnic dimension in politics in the Volga-Ural region (Magomedov, 2001,
Another emergent regional identity is apparent in Dagestan. As home to more than 30
ethno-linguistic groups, a myriad of potentially conflicting ethnic identity conceptions compete and yet Dagestan remains united administratively and vis-à-vis the center. Ware and
Kisriev (most recently in Ware et al., 2003) have argued that ethnic diversity does not necessarily entail instability, and that the very intricacy of Dagestan’s ethnic structure has inhibited
radicalism and encouraged the de-ethnification of politics (Ware and Kisriev, 2001, p. 106).
Significantly, intra-Dagestani ethnic identities are superseded by a broader attachment to
Dagestan23 as home to a collectivity of ethnic groups united by economic, political, and
socio-cultural norms and methods of conflict resolution (Zuercher, 2000, pp. 20-21). They
have also noted an increasing tendency in Dagestan, and perhaps in other North Caucasian
republics, to present themselves monolithically in their dealings with the federal center,
effectively subordinating ethnic, ideological, and political differences to the regional, in
opposition to the national (Ware and Kisriev, 2001, p. 117). By contrast it can be argued that
Dagestani allegiance to the Russian Federation owes more to practical realities than to cultural features. For many Dagestani citizens the most immediate threat to Dagestani security
lies with Chechnya, not with the Russian Federation. Likewise, economic and material
incentives tie the poverty-stricken Dagestan to the Federation and as such the continuation of
loyalty to the federal center may depend to a significant extent on the degree to which the
center is able to meet socio-economic as well as military security needs.
Regional identities also may develop in non-republican regions, which do not necessarily have a titular or marked ethnic identity. Outside the republics, some of the most vocal
support for regional autonomy has come from the Far East, and Primorskiy Kray in particular, reflecting its frontier position, historical traditions, economic requirements, and isolation
from the center (in terms of distance, time, and living conditions). Historical factors combined with contemporary administrative and economic structures may encourage the development of broader regional identities within the Russian territory. The previously mentioned
Tatarstani regional identity draws much from a civilizational idea of a broader “Volga-Urals”
region, which has an organic heritage differing culturally, historically, and religiously from
Russia (Magomedov, 2001, p. 21). Likewise calls for greater autonomy for Primorskiy Kray
refer to the historical precedent of the Far Eastern Republic (1920–1922), which was based
on non-ethnic cultural and economic distinctiveness. A broad Siberian regional identity
has long existed, exhibiting a sense of “otherness” from the rest of Russia (Hughes, 1994,
p. 1147) and based not only on economic motivations but on Siberian cultural distinctiveness
and reflected in popular folkloric conceptions. This identity could again develop an overtly
political dimension capable of inspiring fear of Siberian separatism, particularly as the
23Indeed survey data has revealed that a wholly ethnic identification is surprisingly weak in Dagestan and that
three-quarters of those surveyed identified themselves primarily as Dagestani, compared to less than 15 percent who
identified primarily by ethnicity (Ware et al., 2003, p.13). 104 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS population and elite moves westward and if the center fails to deliver solutions to Siberia’s
socio-economic problems while at the same time benefiting from her resources. Moreover
the administrative boundaries of the federal districts may help to consolidate regional identities, just as federal state structures consolidated ethno-territorial identities under Soviet rule.
As inter-regional connections and inter-regional networks of interaction are constructed,
regional linkages and thus identities can more easily develop, particularly where federal district boundaries align with broad trans-regional cultural identities, such as in most of the
North Caucasus, in Siberia, and in the Far East.24
The Russian political space clearly remains fragmented and subject to competing ethnic
and regional cultural identity conceptions that threaten to outpace the development of a
Russian-wide civic national identity and to outrank that identity in terms of political legitimacy. Putin’s efforts to undermine the integrity of ethno-cultural distinctiveness as politically
valuable, at the same time that he seeks to alleviate some of the socio-economic problems
that create volatility in the poorest ethnic and Islamic regions, are hindered by his implicit
support for a exclusivist, even militaristic, ethno-Russian nationalism and the continuing war
in Chechnya. While sacrificing democracy to authoritarianism in the ethnic (particularly
North Caucasian) republics may maintain control and stability over the short term, central
ethno-nationalism combined with federal centralization in the context of reinforcing
ethno-cultural identities in the republics is hardly a recipe for national unity, cohesion, or
legitimacy in the longer term, and certainly not one appropriate to a supposedly liberal
democracy. Add to this a failure to even consider the strength or potential of regionally
constituted civic identity alternatives in both the increasingly fragmented heartland and the
increasingly isolated peripheries and the challenge laid at the feet of a weak civic identity
REGIONAL ASPECTS OF RUSSIA’S DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS
Hooson, writing in the mid-1960s, noted that “the population on the land . . . comprising
the Soviet Union [had] more than doubled in the [20th] century” (1964, p. 47). A similar
trend is far from discernible at the start of the present century. The Russian population, rather
than exhibiting an “average annual rate of population increase . . . almost identical to the
North American rate and double that of most of Europe” (ibid.) became in 1992, the first in
any country in the world to experience natural decline for reasons other than war, famine, or
disease. The recently published 2002 census results revealed a total population numbering
145 million (see Heleniak, 2003b), some one million fewer than in 1989, while the most generous projections now anticipate a total population of 120 million by mid-century.
Excepting the overtly spatial migratory variable, over-reliance on liberal demographic
transition theory has, more often than not, obscured (or ignored) Russian demographic
regional variation and focused instead on national-level universalizable trends. Yet, such
national trends disguise significant spatial variance.25 Russia’s 89 federal subjects exhibit
hugely divergent demographics in both population composition and dynamics, as evidenced
in migration patterns, fertility trends, mortality patterns, age distributions, ethnic composition,
24Equally however, such horizontal integration could serve as a bulwark against disintegration of the federation. (Herd, 1998).
25As Rivkin-Fish (2003, p. 289) argues in his insightful anthropological critique of liberal demographic transition theory; see also Ioffe et al. (2001, p. 31). BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 105 Fig. 9. Population density in Russia’s regions in 2002. welfare provision, etc. Each is impacted by long-term and transition-influenced trends, be
they environmental, social, historical, demographic, economic, or political. By training his
eye on the Volga-Baikal zone, Hooson was able to draw out the disparity and difference that
characterized those regions. Demographic processes now, as then, work in different ways in
different places, with different consequences.
Russia is a huge country with very low and very uneven population densities. The broad
discrepancies in population distribution are clearly shown in Figure 9. The process of natural
decline and migration patterns are reinforcing this unevenness, and regional populations are
now shrinking (or growing) in a geographically uneven manner (Herd, 2002, p. 4). Only the
Southern and Central federal districts recorded intercensal population growth (of 11.6 and
0.2 percent, respectively), while at the subject level, some 23 regions did so, topping
43 percent in Dagestan, and more than 10 percent in six others (Fig. 10).26 Population decline
in excess of 10 percent was recorded in 23 regions, often in source regions for large-scale
out-migration, such as in Siberia, the Far East, and the European North. Magadan and
Chukotka registered 53 percent and 67 percent declines, respectively.
Growth differentials also occur within regions to a substantial degree, in particular
between rural and urban areas. A second population density map (Fig. 11) shows rayon-level
densities on the same scale as those shown in Figure 10 and clearly indicates the level of
variation, which is obscured at the regional level. Zooming in on the Southern Federal
26Among the latter group, Kabardino-Balkaria exhibited the highest rate of growth (20 percent), followed by
Moscow city (17 percent), Stavropol (13 percent), North Ossetia (12 percent), Khanty-Mansi (12 percent), and
Krasnodar (11 percent); Ingushestia also registered growth of roughly this magnitude, although the actual percentage is unknown. 106 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Fig. 10. Percentage change in population in Russia’s regions, 1989–2002. This map uses 1989
census figures adjusted to take into account information that has become available in the post-Soviet
period (see Tolts, 2004). Fig. 11. Population density in Russia’s rayons in 2002. BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 107 Fig. 12. Population density in Russia’s Southern Federal District in 2002 (A) and percentage
change in population density, 1989–2002 (B). District (Fig. 12) demonstrates intra-regional differentials in both population density and
changes thereof.27 Migratory trends have been particularly complex in the Southern district,
with non-ethnic regions (Krasnodar, Rostov, Stavropol’, and Volgograd) experiencing much
greater inflows than the ethnic republics, and authoritarian Kalmykia and KabardinoBalkaria, substantial outflows. The war in Chechnya has sent large numbers of displaced
persons to both Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Migratory patterns and dynamics are most readily traced from the spatial perspective
(Fig. 13). Internally the dominant migratory trend has been the much-noted migration from
northern and eastern Russia westward and southward, effectively undoing the system of
habitation cultivated by Soviet-era planners, which resulted in an overpopulated and overdeveloped periphery (Heleniak, 2003a, p. 337).
Except for Chinese flows into the Far East, internal and external (both legal and illegal)
in-migrants tend to head for the same destination regions, most notably to major urban centers in European Russia, which seem to afford the best living conditions and employment
opportunities. Regions such as St. Petersburg, Rostov-na-Donu, and Volgograd have been
major recipients, and it is estimated that as many as half of all migrants have settled in
Moscow and Moscow Oblast (Herd, 2002, p. 22; 2003, p. 48). Many external in-migrants
from the CIS states have also settled along Russia’s southern tier, bordering key departure
states such as Kazakhstan and those in Transcaucasia (Heleniak, 1997, p. 90). Such movements have had a significant impact on the ethnic composition of the population in such
In terms of city growth rates, Hooson made much of the rapid growth rates of cities
within the Volga-Baikal zone, but most of those in the eastern portion of this region have
27Similar maps for the other federal districts are available at the project website. See http:///www.le.ac.uk/
geography/research/RussianHeartland/index.html. 108 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Fig. 13. Net migration in Russia’s regions, 1993–2001, as a percentage of the 1993 population. Fig. 14. Population change in Russia’s major cities (over 100,000), 1989–2002. BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 109 Fig. 15. Population change in Russia’s major cities (over 100,000), 1979–1989. experienced population declines since 1989 (Fig. 14); substantial growth is noticeable in
only some cities in European Russia, and in the North Caucasus, as well as in cities in the
Volga region (the western end of Hooson’s heartland). Post-Soviet city growth trends already
differ quite markedly from those in 1979–1989 (Fig. 15).
Fertility rates exhibit pronounced regional variation as well (Fig. 16), although they are
now less significant than in the 1960s and 1970s, when they ranged from an average of 1.4
children per woman in Moscow to 4.9 children in Dagestan. However, as the number of
women aged 20–29 declines, especially from 2007 onwards, regional disparities may be
increasingly important in determining population growth differentials, as certain regions
experience sharper fertility declines than others.
Spatial trends in mortality also can be identified (Fig. 17). Traditionally, mortality
increases toward the north and east and is lower in the south and west. Harsher, more remote,
colder regions tend to have lower life expectancies and economic structure and associated
environmental conditions may also be relevant (i.e., environmental hazards may increase
morbidity from cancers etc.). The 2002 map reveals that this pattern is still dominant, albeit
with exceptions related to ethnicity, economic structures, and other factors.
In terms of regional age structures, the population share above working age ranged from
6.5 percent to 26.7 percent at the level of Russia’s federation subjects in 2002 (Fig. 18).
However, even in resource-rich regions of the Far East and Siberia, traditionally small
elderly populations have increased substantially over the last decade, primarily due to higher
rates of emigration among younger cohorts and a breakdown in the previous pattern of high
labor turnover. In Yamal-Nenets, for example, the proportion of elderly population has
increased from 2 percent to 6.5 percent since the mid-1990s, in Khanty-Mansi from 3.5 percent to 8 percent, and in Chukotka from 3 percent to 10 percent. 110 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Fig. 16. Total fertility rates in Russia’s regions in 2003 (79 federal subjects only). Perm’ includes
the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug (AO), Arkhangel’sk includes the Nenets AO, Tyumen’
includes the Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets AOs, Krasnoyarsk includes the Evenki and Taimyr AOs,
Irkutsk includes the Ust-Orda Buryat AO, Chita includes Aga-Buryat AO, and Kamchatka includes the
Koryak AO. No data are available for Chechnya. Transitional and relatively unstable states, such as Russia, have a great deal of potential
for internal instability, and for demographic factors to reinforce that instability at the
regional, if not also the national, level. Diverse demographic processes (i.e., migration-led or
natural, growth or decline) interact with distinct pre-existing social, economic, political, and
cultural conditions (i.e., differing age and ethnic structures or economic conditions) in each
of Russia’s 89 regions with widely variable implications for regional (or sub- or interregional) character, potential, and significance.28
Demographic changes that alter the balance between population and economy are particularly associated with political instability and even violent conflict, although it is not always
clear where the balance may lie. For example, while rapid city growth may have been an
indicator of economic development and strength in the 1960s in Hooson’s Volga-Baikal
zone, similar growth rates now in the poverty-stricken, high-unemployment Southern district
may simply exacerbate the pre-existing mismatch between the regional labor supply and
demand. Likewise, population decline in the Far North, while reflecting economic decline,
may also indicate adaptation to market realities, and may encourage innovation and
increased efficiency as the Soviet-era labor-intensive disequilibrium works its way out
(Sutherland and Hanson, 2000, p. 76).
28For example, rapid population increases will impact a society with low economic growth and high unemployment very differently than one experiencing high economic growth and a labor shortage (Weiner and Stanton
Russell, 2001, p. 3). BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 111 Fig. 17. Average life expectancy at birth in Russia’s regions in 2002. Regions have different capacities (be they societal, economic, administrative, etc.) and
so may exhibit variations in their ability to cope with, for example, migration in-flows, which
increase demand for housing, welfare and healthcare services; alter dependency ratios
(Fig. 19); and increase unemployment and poverty rates. Regions may be in no position to
adapt sufficiently or quickly to new challenges, particularly as social infrastructure and
welfare funding are in part the product of regional economic strength, tax base, and reliance
on federal transfers. Poorer regions in the south that have been receiving much of the migration, and also tend to have larger youth cohorts, will likely be least able to cope with the
influx of people, either in terms of providing jobs or welfare. Regions bordering Chechnya,
such as Ingushetia and Dagestan, which are among Russia’s poorest, have had additionally to
care for tens of thousands of internally displaced persons. In such regions, demographic factors combined with economic and social problems may increase social polarization and
reduce societal cohesion (Independent, 2002, p. 24).
Likewise mortality and health profiles present regions with differential budget costs in
terms of medical and welfare provision. Compared to many demographic trends that
adversely affect the poorest Russian regions, HIV/AIDS incidence, and related drug use and
higher crime rates, tend to be associated with more affluent regions (those that contribute the
most to the national economy) and thus has the potential to hamper development in the more
successful regional economies, by disproportionately affecting men of working age, reducing
labor productivity, and reducing incentives for investment in human capital. Although HIV
cases are now recorded in all of Russia’s 89 regions, only 10 regions account for more than
50 percent of all reported cases (Fig. 20). The 40 or so regions with very low levels of infection to date may, by contrast, be able to avoid epidemics and the associated economic and 112 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Fig. 18. Percentage of population above working age in Russia’s regions in 2002. Fig. 19. Total dependents per 1,000 persons of working age in Russia’s regions in 2002. BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 113 Fig. 20. Cumulative registered cases of HIV/AIDS to October 2002 in Russia’s regions (as per
Feshbach, 2003, pp. 84-89). social costs if preventative measures are introduced rapidly, and provided the low registered
levels do not simply reflect inadequacies in detection.29
Changing demographic profiles, in terms of age, sex, etc. may also alter regional (and
potentially national) political balances. Whether a certain region is more open and reformoriented or inward-looking and protectionist, both economically and socio-culturally (in attitudes toward women, multiculturalism, sexual freedoms, etc.) should to some degree reflect
the demographic and socio-economic profile of its electorate. Before the most recent presidential and parliamentary elections at least, Clem and Craumer (2000a, 2000b) had illustrated a statistical correlation between population characteristics, such as gender, age, and
ethnicity and spatial variations in terms of turnout rates, party identification, issue positions,
and voter choices (Sperling, 2002, p. 1). Interestingly the more conservative vote of the
elderly has previously been manifested as support for the KPRF, but is increasingly being
transferred to support for Putin, United Russia, and the extreme right (LDPR) (Heleniak,
2003a, p. 342). The general aging of the population could therefore push politics farther in a
right-wing ethno-nationalist direction. Equally, increasingly differentiated age and ethnicity
profiles may reinforce regional political disparities, manifested for example in an older, more
conservative, more patriotic Russian core, and a younger, less conservative (possibly more
liberal), non-nationalist (or non-Russian nationalist, at least) periphery.
Traditionally, dramatic consequences for political cohesion and stability are anticipated
where demographic processes engender changes in ethnic balances or increase the size of the
youth cohort. A connection between large youth cohorts and protest and radicalism has
plagued African nations in particular (Weiner and Stanton Russell, 2001, p. 8). In Russia,
29Cumulative figures to October 2002 indicated that some 42 regions had registered less than 400 cases, while
20 had registered less than 100, and 8 fewer than 20. In Nizhniy Novgorod, early intervention appeared to have successfully stabilized the local epidemic, although numbers have been increasing again recently (UNAIDS, 2003;
Denissov and Sakevitch, 2004, p. 80). 114 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS Fig. 22. Percentage change in the share of ethnic Russians in Russia’s regions, 1989–2002. Republic, autonomous okrug, and (Jewish) autonomous oblast boundaries are outlined in black. despite her aging rather than youthful population, the size of the cohort itself may be less
important than the degree to which that group is alienated and disenfranchised politically and
socially. In this regard, large (and typically youthful) migrations to the cities in the south of
the country and particularly the North Caucasus (as shown in Fig. 13), may concentrate relatively large cohorts of young adults in urban areas with high unemployment and poverty
rates, provoking social dislocation, drug-use, and crime (Teitelbaum, 2001, p. 22).
Hooson argued that the national significance of ethno-cultural heterogeneity had been
“greatly exaggerated” (1964, p. 48), yet demographic factors with ethnic dimensions are perhaps the most likely to lead to political instability in some of Russia’s regions. Although data
relating to nationality composition from the 2002 census must be treated with some caution,
they do point to two concurrent and significant trends. First, faster growth rates among ethnic
(especially Islamic) groups, natural population decline in many traditionally Russian regions,
out-migration from the ethnic republics by ethnic Russians, as well as ethnic re-identification
are all contributing to an increase in the concentration of ethnic groups in their home republics; this is causing some degree of un-mixing of Russia’s peoples, reinforcing the correlation
between region and ethnicity. Of Russia’s 21 ethnic republics, all but five have since 1989
have registered a decline in the percentage of the population self-identifying its nationality as
Russian (Fig. 21). Changes have been of significant magnitude in many republics30 and even
in some autonomous okrugs.31
Such changes may alter regional political or labor balances, not to mention regional and
national identity conceptions. The increasing homogenization of Russians and non-Russians
within different regions (especially outside of European Russia) could leave increasingly
30For instance, in Ingushetia the percentage of the Russian population declined by some 12 percentage points
to just over one percent, and in Tyva a 12 percentage-point decline reduced the percentage Russian from 32 percent
to just over 20 percent.
31In the Koryak AO, ethnically divergent patterns of out-migration have left a local population which is 11 percentage points less Russian than in 1989. BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 115 concentrated ethnic minorities feeling disenfranchised from a national political stage, dominated by a Russian ethno-centric elite. There is already, for example, a major lack of central
representation for the largest non-Russian groups and for the Muslim population in general
(some 14 million citizens according to preliminary census results).
Conversely, in some of Russia’s most populous and economically powerful central and
southern European regions, demographic changes are producing increasingly multi-cultural
populations—most obviously, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which have both experienced a
decline of between 4 and 5 percent in the share of Russians relative to non-Russians, but also
in virtually all (not just the republican) regions in the southern and central federal districts,
which is the traditional Russian core. This is potentially beneficial for the development of
more inclusive identity conceptions. However, although research has suggested that ethnic
Russians living in Muslim or Buddhist republics may be more tolerant (Oliker and CharlickPaley, 2002, p. 57), the reaction of ethnic Russians to non-Russian inflows into traditionally
Russian areas has been less positive, and precariously low levels of inter-ethnic tolerance
seem to greet both Chinese in-flows to the Far East and Central Asian (and even North
Caucasian) inflows to European Russian cities (Alexseev, 2001, p. 6).
The danger to territorial integrity of Far Eastern depopulation is perhaps the most discussed regional consequence from a security perspective related to Chinese military or
“silent” demographic expansion; yet seems alarmist and far-fetched. More worrying is
Russia’s military manpower shortage, due to declining age cohorts, and the poor health and
educational level of conscripts. This threatens Russia’s combat capability, her ability to
police borders effectively, and to continue with even current levels of deployment. Regional
disparities already exist in conscription rates, due to health, drug use, and avoidance differentials. In the longer term, higher growth rates among non-Russian ethnic groups will probably
increase non-Russian conscription levels proportionally, with possible related loyalty problems, particularly in light of some regional efforts to prevent their conscripts from serving in
In multi-ethnic Russia, with her poorly established sense of civic identity and high
degree of ethnic intolerance, migration flows and other demographic processes may have
significant consequences not just for the strength of a region’s economy or the pressure on its
social infrastructure, but for the very cohesion of the society and culture, for popular understandings of regional and national identity, and so for the state’s stability and sovereignty. In
particular, the decline of the politically dominant ethnic Russian population, and the growth
of relatively disenfranchised non-Russian (particularly Muslim) ethnic groups in some
republics, may encourage protectionism among the former and radicalization of the latter,
particularly in the context of nationalist central rhetoric, civil war in Chechnya, and rising
terrorist activity, as well as the related increasingly widespread xenophobia amongst the ethnic Russian population.
The exact direction of many demographic trends and their consequences are difficult to
discern, and would be more easily so under prolonged economic, political, and social stability in Russia’s regions. Unfortunately, demographic (and other) disparities are presenting
challenges in economic, social, and cultural spheres, which seem more likely to reinforce
rather than reduce turmoil. This makes the required stability even more difficult to achieve.
A NEW RUSSIAN HEARTLAND? DISCUSSION
If Russia is to be governable and economically viable, it needs to “shrink” itself—
not by divesting territory but by organizing its economy differently. The objective is 116 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS to reduce distance and create new connections. People will need to migrate westward on a large scale, and the large cities in the coldest and remote regions will have
to downsize. The barriers to self-correction, however, are considerable. (Hill and
Gaddy, 2003, p. 140)
The purpose of this section is to place the findings of the current project within the wider
context of current research on the geographical dimensions of Russia’s transformation and by
doing so to identify some of the key geographical challenges that confront the Russian state.
The first of those challenges we would describe as the Siberian dilemma. Forty years ago
David Hooson concluded that the Soviet Union would be strengthened by the “easterly drift
of industrial population.” In their recent book entitled The Siberian Curse, Fiona Hill and
Clifford Gaddy (2003) suggest that, far from strengthening the Soviet Union, the way that
Soviet planners went about developing the more remote regions of Siberia (understood here
to include the Russian Far East) cost the State dearly and now places a major impediment to
Russia’s sustainable economic recovery. Here it is not the place to dwell on the reasons why
this might be the case. The Siberian dilemma refers to the fact that Siberia’s resources have
largely bankrolled Russia’s recent economic performance; furthermore, most analysts suggest that Russia’s future international comparative advantage will remain in the production of
resources. Thus, Russia needs to continue to develop Siberia. As Hill (2004b, p. 324) has
noted, “Siberia holds just under 80 percent of Russia’s oil resources, 85 percent of its natural
gas, 80 percent of its coal, similar amounts of precious metals and diamonds and a little over
40 percent of the nation’s timber resources.” In Hooson’s terms, Siberia, in an economic
sense at least, is currently a significant component of Russia’s effective national territory.
The problems lie in the way that Siberia was developed during the Soviet period, such that
the dilemma is not just that Russia’s needs Siberia’s resources, but that it needs to find a new
way of developing those resources, a way that is economically viable and ecologically sustainable. As Hill (2004b, p. 331) puts it: “This time the challenge is not how to open up
Siberia and conquer it, but how to develop it on a new, sustainable basis for the future and
wrest Russia free from Siberia’s past mis-development.”
One thing that is certain is that this new model of Siberian development will be capitaland technology- rather than labor-intensive, a factor that will serve to amplify the imbalance
between those regions that contribute to the national economy and those regions that house
the bulk of Russia’s population. Hill and Gaddy (2003) have suggested that people will have
to move, and as we have seen this is happening. However, the spatial readjustment they call
for will more likely result from medium- and long-term differential population change; the
population in the northern and eastern regions will be reduced by natural processes rather
than a trans-continental mass migration, and future natural increase and in-migration will be
concentrated in the European regions of the country. This is because many barriers to mobility remain and also because many people do not wish to leave those northern and eastern
regions (e.g., Thompson, 2003), a fact that will impose considerable welfare costs on the
The second and third challenges are closely related, and are best described as the
Moscow effect and the missing millionaires. The first challenge relates to the increasingly
dominant position occupied by Moscow in Russia’s economy, and the second to the overall
structure of Russia’s urban hierarchy. As our analysis of the level of economic concentration
has revealed, as a consequence of the processes of transformation Moscow has increased its
level of dominance in economic terms. In 2002, Moscow City and Moscow Oblast combined, in other words the Moscow region, accounted for a mere 0.3 percent of Russia’s BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 117 territory, but 10.5 percent of its population, 24.7 percent of total GRP, 12.2 percent of the
workforce, 10.7 percent of industrial production, 31.7 percent of retail trade turnover,
46.2 percent of foreign investment, 26.7 percent of exports, and 45.2 percent of imports
(Goskomstat, 2003, pp. 38-39, 860-861). Moscow’s primacy is undoubtedly a reality, but it
prominence is also exaggerated by the way economic activity is reported. Much of the economic activity reported above probably takes place outside of the Moscow region by companies that are headquartered in Moscow. Furthermore Moscow is the country’s primary
entrepôt and therefore many of the goods purchased in the region are consumed elsewhere.
Finally, the relative discrepancy between the shares of the population and workforce, on the
one hand, and exports, on the other, suggests that practices such as transfer pricing serve to
bolster the foreign economic activity of the city.32 Consequently, Moscow has a rather parasitic relationship with the resource regions, siphoning economic rent that should be returned
to Siberia. There is nothing new in this; the Soviet monopoly over foreign trade produced
much the same outcome.
It is not particularly unusual for a capital city region to dominate its national economy,
although it does present certain problems for the rest of the country. However, in Russia’s
case, the situation is made more complex by the peculiarities of the country’s urban hierarchy. It has long been recognized that the Soviet system of central planning had a significant
impact on the development of Russia’s cities, and recent analysis using Zipf’s rank-size rule
has placed the Russian case in international context. Two recent studies (Hill and Gaddy,
2003, pp. 17-24 and World Bank, 2004, pp. 27-33) identify two issues of relevance to our
analysis: first, that according to Zipf’s law Moscow and St. Petersburg are too small, and second, that Russia is missing a number of second-tier cities, what we have called the missing
millionaires. According to the World Bank’s calculations (2004, p. 27), Moscow should have
a population of 13 million (instead of 10.4 million) and St. Petersburg 7 million (instead of
4.7 million). This observation may seem to contradict our previous discussion of Moscow’s
dominance, but the Moscow effect is more about economic dominance than demographic
weight. The point is supported by the fact that its economic weight is particularly high given
its share of population.
With respect to the second issue, Hill and Gaddy (2003, pp. 18-19) observed: “Russia’s
lack of urban areas between 1.5 and 4.0 millions is one of the most formal differences
between the US and Russian urban structures . . . more than half of the U.S. population lives
in urban agglomerations of more than one million people, fewer than 16 percent of Russians
do.” The World Bank (2004, p. 27) concluded: “It seems that Russia is ‘missing’ a number of
cities, i.e. large cities with populations between 1.5 and 4.0 millions. Compared with the
benchmark of Zipf’s Law, Russia’s second tier cities are unusually small.” Furthermore, the
World Bank (2004, p. 28) observed: “A comparison with the rest of the world shows that the
standard and relatively small size of Russia’s second tier cities—or alternatively, the lack of
agglomeration—is indeed unique to Russia.” The consequences for Russia’s economic
development are clear when one considers that many of the second-tier cities that do exist are
in the wrong place, in the Urals and Siberia. Furthermore, it is also apparent that urban
agglomerations tend to offer the kind of environment most conducive to economic growth, a
fact identified by the Aton (2004) study; thus Russia has a deficit of the kind of city-regions
needed to generate new economic activity in the regions where they are most needed,
32For example, oil produced in Siberia is sold to holding companies in Moscow that then export it and record
that activity locally as a service sector transaction. The profits from that transaction, if returned to Russia, are then
retained and consumed in Moscow. 118 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICS specifically European Russia. It is possible that the Moscow effect now casts a shadow
across central Russia that makes it very difficult for competing centers to emerge, as witnessed by the relative underperformance of St. Petersburg.
The fourth challenge is a result of the complex interaction of the economic, political, and
demographic dimensions discussed above, namely Russia’s fragile borderlands. As a consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union, at the end of 1991 27 of Russia’s regions suddenly became international frontiers of the Russian Federation (Nicholson, 1999, p. 49).
Russia now has the world’s longest land border of 14,509 km and in total 35 of its regions
share a frontier with 14 foreign states. The problem is not so much the extent of the border,
although that is undoubtedly a challenge, but the fact that many of those border regions are
demographically stressed and economically underdeveloped. This is particularly true of the
southern border regions in the Southern, Volga, Urals, Siberian, and Far East districts. If that
were not enough, these regions also include the majority of Russia’s ethnic republics. Thus,
as the section on the political dimension made clear, the greatest threat to Russia’s territorial
integrity does not come from the landlocked and resource-rich republics such as Tatarstan,
Bashkortostan, and Sakha, but from the impoverished republics of the Southern Federal
District. The fact that Russia’s borderlands comprise some of the country’s poorest regions
does not bode well for the establishment of an effective border regime and has obvious implications for Russia’s neighbors. At the same time, the fact that Russia’s effective national territory is concentrated some distance from its borders might promote continental, insular
attitudes toward international cooperation. For its neighbours, a border with Russia is more a
problem than an opportunity. For example, there is little evidence that eastward expansion of
the European Union will reinvigorate the European border regions of Russia.
The final challenge questions the entire notion of a heterogeneous and contiguous heartland or core region. Instead of a major belt or zone identifiable as the effective national territory, the contemporary landscape is more an archipelago of islands of relative prosperity that
contribute the bulk of the national economy. As Leslie Dienes (2002, p. 450) observed:
“Geographically, economically, and socially, Russia today is an archipelago. The country’s
integrated economy is entirely confined to a set of urban agglomerations plus a few more isolated cities and resource-extracting centers, separated by vast geographical space.” Instead of
Hooson’s New Soviet Heartland with its core region, expanding Volga-Baykal region, and
marginal areas, in Dienes’s “Archipelago Russia,” outside of the integrated economy is a vast
“dead space.” This may be an overly pessimistic vision of contemporary Russia, but it does
drive home just how dramatically things have changed as a consequence of Russia’s transformation. Today Russia is a fragmented state, and the mappings of the economic, political, and
demographic dimensions presented here suggest a complex geographical reality that defies
simple generalisation. There is no doubt that the Soviet system bequeathed a geography of
population and economy ill suited to the needs of a market economy, but it is also clear that
the actions during the 1990s more often than not made a bad situation worse. This begs the
question what the Russian state can do now to ensure the cohesion of the Russian Federation.
CONCLUSION: FRAGMENTATION AND CENTRALIZATION
At the beginning of this analysis we evoked the European Union’s notion of “territorial
cohesion.” That definition made clear the importance of “making both sectoral policies that
have a spatial impact and regional policy more coherent” (European Commission, 2004,
p. 27). By its own admission, the Russian Federal Government has a “passive” regional
policy that is limited to modest transfers via the fiscal federal system. It does not have an BRADSHAW AND PRENDERGRAST 119 explicit regional development fund of the type used by the European Union, one that identifies particular types of problems and provides targeted funding to those regions that meet the
criteria. The problem is that even if Russia did have such a policy, it is doubtful that it would
be effective: first, because there is limited evidence that such policies actually make a difference; second, in Russia’s highly politicized federal system funds likely would be awarded as
a political favor rather than on the basis of objective criteria; and third, because it is unlikely
that the funds paid to regions would be put to good use.
In any event, the absence of a regional development policy would not pose a serious
problem if the central state were aware of its fallibilities and was prepared to use the market
and the decentralization of public finances to enable regions to address their own problems
and create the conditions for local democracy and economic growth. Although such a free
market approach would also generate regional inequalities and regional problems, economic
theory suggests that it would reward those regions trying to do the right thing in the right
place, and were barriers to migration eliminated at the same time, people would be able to
move to those prosperous regions. In such a situation, it appears inadvisable for the state to
attempt to subsidize failing regions; instead, according to the World Bank (2004, pp. 35-37),
social programs targeting people who stay on in depressed areas would prove more cost
effective than economic development programs.
Unfortunately, in Putin’s Russia the trend is toward increased centralization and direct
state involvement in both the political and economic arenas. Today Russia’s regions have little freedom of action, even to do the wrong thing. Changes to the tax regime and the political
system make political and economic elites increasingly dependent on Moscow. Thus we have
the worst possible situation, a central state that is increasing its control over political and
economy activity, yet is either unaware of the need, unwilling, or unable to address the growing threats to its territorial cohesion posed by the situation described in this analysis. This
does not bode well for the future of the Russian Federation, or for the world more generally.
The current economic recovery may turn out to be little more than a short-lived façade, and
an opportunity missed. There is no easy answer, no off-the-shelf policy prescription, but
there can be no doubting that Russia’s contemporary geography poses a significant threat to
the future cohesion of the Russian Federation and that presents a new security challenge to
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- Spring '11