Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
My microcosmic view comes from visiting there, not from some budgetary or economic figures I could produce.

Russia is a few islands of limitless prosperity, Moscow and some energy-rich towns such as Ekaterinburg : there, you will find just the same consumption excesses, SUV, large German cars, traffic jams, as any in the "West".

Yes, they are finalizing this rail link with Sheremetevo, but that's Moscow, and Russia is vast.

Outside these islands of extreme wealth, absolutely nothing is being done. Hop onto a train towards Kazan or Yaroslavl, and you will be transported in the same wagons that were used 40 years ago. The public buses or tranways in the little provincial towns are in an appalling state of disrepair. The local authorities show no interest in taking care of their own.

Many, many villages are just abandonned, inhabited by a few old women, old churches crumbling, local roads in an awful state, perfectly good houses just left empty. You could say it's just the same phenomenon as everywhere else, people leaving the countryside, but at least here in France some wealth still percolates from the large centers towards the most outlying villages. Not in Putin's Russia.

The order is the order of the powerful. An example, I filled up the tank of the little Moskvitch I was driving, and was asked to pay for more liters than what the tank actually contains. When I suggested to my friends that maybe we should complain to the authorities, I was told that they were part of the scheme.

The local hospitals can't any more pay decent salaries to their doctors, so most of them just move to larger towns. So those who stay, well, may not be the best.

What I am trying to say is that with all his smarts, Putin still is a short sighted politician, who couldn't be bothered with optimizing Russia's energy windfall. He isn't any better than a Sarkozy or a Brown. He does not have a strategic long term view of what to do for the future of Russia. Why, if he did have one, he would have nationalized oil and gas and aluminium a long time ago, he would build high-speed train links across the country.

Trains are vital in Russia, because of the winters, and because of the distances.

Now, I'd be quite happy to be proven wrong, because I just love those Europeans from the East, and I wish them the best...

And sorry for the rambling post.

by balbuz on Sun Jul 6th, 2008 at 11:24:18 AM EST
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