Meanwhile In Siberia: A Case For More Autonomy

Siberia provided 76% of Russian exports. And taxes on its mined resources account for over half the federal budget. As tension grows at the Ukraine border, some in Siberia want more control.

Siberian cadets in Novosibirsk
Siberian cadets in Novosibirsk
Vladislav Inozemtsev*


MOSCOW — The mayoral election is approaching in Novosibirsk, the largest municipality in Russia, as both candidates and observers there are fond of observing. But there’s more at stake than just local leadership. Experts say the April election could be an important indicator of the Russian electorate’s overall political mood.

Novosibirsk is a city that already has a “unified opposition,” where representatives of different political parties are ready to cooperate to stand up against the government in power. It is also the capital of Siberia — a territory that plays an enormous role in the country’s economy.

In the past few years, Siberian elections have been dull, and only the ruling center-right United Russia party has taken them seriously. But times are changing: There are several important political contests throughout Siberia in the next year and a half. What’s surprising is that the issues candidates are talking about don’t seem particularly Siberian. It’s especially surprising that no opposition candidate has presented a platform tailored to the needs and challenges of the people living to the east of the Ural Mountains.

If you include parts of the country east of the Urals, Siberia is where most of the raw materials that make up the majority of Russia’s export income are mined. Siberia provided about 76% of the country’s exports in 2013. Taxes on minerals mined in Siberia, together with gas exports, make up 52% of the federal budget.

Even as the showdown continues with the West over Ukraine, Moscow has never depended on the country’s East as much as it does now. And its relationship with Siberia is decidedly colonial.

In truth, a change in Siberia’s status to more accurately reflect its contributions could become an effective opposition slogan. I see several reasons for that. First of all, a call for more regional autonomy could not be misconstrued as separatism. It is a part of the country that is inhabited primarily by the majority ethnic group, with a long history in common with the country’s core, and it has never tried to secede.

Street scene in Tomsk, Siberia — Photo: Adam Jones

In addition, most Russians understand both that life is hard in Siberia and that the region contributes more than its share to the country’s economy, so it’s unlikely they would take offense at Siberian efforts to change the way the region’s riches are distributed. Lastly, we could reduce both the amount of money that is collected from Siberia and the money sent back there through government investment programs, which would have a major impact on reducing corruption.

The theory that only a serious reduction in gas prices will force the Russian government to modernize becomes much less threatening when considering that allowing Siberia to keep more of its own income would have the same effect. More autonomy for Siberia is in fact one of the key steps toward modernizing the whole country.

A platform in need of a candidate

At the moment, Moscow is the center of conservatism. All of the government structures are concentrated there. Moscow’s accounts for around 13% of the entire federal budget, and most of its municipal income comes from large, vertically integrated companies, which in turn earn money from exploiting Siberian resources. That’s why it seems unlikely to me that the opposition would win in Moscow elections. Siberia, on the other hand, is ripe for an opposition candidate campaigning on a platform of increased autonomy for the area of the country east of the Urals.

In Kolyvan, Siberia — Photo: Mikhail Koninin

It’s obvious to people living in Siberia that a measure of independence would be good for their home region. They need only look across the Bering Strait for an example. Isn’t Alaska so attractive for investors precisely because it has as much autonomy as a federal system allows? Alaska produces almost as much oil as all of Siberia and the Russian Far East, produces 50% more ocean products than all of Russia’s Pacific Coast, and its major cities are growing. Major Siberian cities are losing population.

Look at Mongolia. Russia, with its oligarchs, monopolies and state-owned corporations, has seen a 6% decline in coal production since 1991, while Mongolia is open to foreign investors and has more than tripled coal production in the same time period.

Regions like this are always developed as a result of private investment. In the United States, private companies built five railroads to the Pacific Ocean while Russia built one. Moscow was not capable of developing Siberia and the Far East into the Russian equivalent to California — or even Oregon or British Columbia. Now it needs to let go of its top-down management style.

Because Siberia should be the engine pushing the development of a modern Russia. First of all, that is where all the country’s natural riches are concentrated, so there should also be an influx of cash that would increase the standard of living for local residents. Secondly, there needs to be development in the sense of moving from a purely extraction economy to industrial production and innovation. Third, once Siberia has achieved some autonomy, it could liberalize its tax laws to attract more outside investment and population, both of which are hard to attract due to Moscow’s bureaucratic infrastructure. Once it has done all of those things, it can focus on increasing efficiency, a measure of development often ignored by the central government.

Just as it was 400 years ago, modern Russia is divided in two: On one side is Moscow and its surrounds, home of the globalized elite who feed like parasites on the nation’s riches. And on the other side is the rest of the country. It’s exactly the kind of situation that should mobilize regional Russian politicians, who understand better than anyone the imbalances in the country’s politics and economics.

*Vladislav Inozemtsev is a professor of economics at Moscow State University.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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