Russia is sliding into a full-scale economic and social crisis faster than I expected as the fiscal and monetary authorities are powerless to stop, much less push back, the juggernaut of self-destructive behavior launched by the Kremlin earlier this year. The veteran Russian fund manager Slava Rabinovich, who has been blogging actively since the invasion of Crimea, appears to share the idea that Russian “monotowns” may turn into war zones (“Fergusons”) when the crisis hits in earnest. In contrast – and unexpectedly to me – the author of the “four Russias” theory, prof. Natalia Zubarevich, sees greater potential for change in the “first Russia”, that of the large cities. For now though, she admits the virus of neo-imperialism has demented Moscovites almost as deeply as small-towners, even though city folk will be the first to sober up:
Natalia Zubarevich. To begin with, I buried [my] “four Russias” in March this year… I simply did not understand my country well [enough]. It turns out there are emotions and phobias that are stronger than the rational. The “four Russias”, that’s rational. Residents of large cities are more modern, more at home in the globalized world, they think differently. But when “Motherland in danger” strikes, everyone is the same. The Levada Center‘s polls that on Crimea, Muscovites and big city dwellers had exactly the same reaction [as other Russians].
Mikhail Sokolov. They all get ironed with the same hot iron applied by federal TV channels.
NZ. One expect people to have built-in filters nonetheless.
MS. 20% are protected somewhat by a filter.
NZ. There are more of them in large cities, certainly, but in March the level of support was practically the same [across the board]. I have buried them [the four Russias] for the time being – but I’m going to dig out that corpse, wait another year and dig up that quasi-corpse because ratio never goes away. Now though, that hot iron of universal euphoria, of post-imperial syndrome: wow, we have beaten them! – it’s going to pass and then rationality will start hatching again. The four Russias will be crawling out into the sunlight again. It’s rather important to me that the first Russia come back. Slowly shaking off the dust, those who have not left will be crawling outside.
MS. This is the Russia of megalopolises.
NZ. Of big cities – where the depth of information is different, the level of education is much higher and rational behavioral models are fully formed. I used to think foolishly they had also been inoculated against imperialism somewhat. No, in that we all stand united, that’s a shared thing.
MS. Still, I wish you wouldn’t bury us all in the same concrete.
NZ. I’m using Levada’s percentages.
MS. Do you trust them?
NZ. The first reaction was genuine but big cities will be the first to start sobering up.
MS. Are you saying that the crisis will first hit the big cities?
NZ. No, not the crisis but the sobering up. That’s because experts seem to agree that… it’s going to affect not so much the poorest – although them, too, as inflation always hits the poor – but speaking of this airstrike’s overall impact, it’s going to hit the urban middle class above all. It’s their ability to get an education, to get medical care, to travel abroad, to get high-quality jobs…