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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Volga Forum Develops a Few Ideas

PERM, Ural Mountains -- Delegates gathered in Perm this week for a two-day forum to discuss development strategies in the Volga Federal District, including the extent to which local authorities can act independently of the federal government, the impact of globalization and social reforms.

The results of the Regional Development Strategies Forum will be presented to President Vladimir Putin at a meeting next Monday by representatives from the 15 Volga regions.

"The aim of the forum was to formulate strategies to develop the regions from the point of view of the people who will be taking part in the process," said Sergei Kiriyenko, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, at the opening of the forum Monday.

About 500 representatives of federal ministries, regional and local administrations, nongovernmental organizations, academics, businessmen and reporters took part in the forum, which attempted to build on issues discussed at the first development forum in Samara last year.

"At the first forum, many participants were still unsure about whether the regions were responsible for development and suggested that the regions must simply find their place within the framework of a government-prepared strategy for the development of the country," Kiriyenko said. "But over the past year, everyone has understood that the main strategy and initiative must come from the municipalities, from nonprofit and business partnership in the smallest towns, while the higher authorities must coordinate and assist them."

Kiriyenko said almost all regions request federal money to fund development, instead of trying to raise money themselves or start up projects that could pay for themselves.

"We all know that billions of rubles must be poured into our collapsing infrastructure," he said. "The state does not have this sort of money, and the regions must not only provide their own share but also stimulate internal resources -- money from businesses that also need to use this infrastructure.

"Regions and municipalities must take the initiative and not just execute decisions made by the government," Kiriyenko said.

Another area in which regions can help themselves is by cooperating more with one another, Kiriyenko said. While the regions have the potential to integrate, their main tendency has been to keep their economies separate, he said, giving as an example the republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan.

"Bashkortostan, with lots of oil-processing enterprises, wants federal cash to improve its oil-extracting infrastructure, while Tatarstan, with lots of oil but lacking refineries, is offering to unite the industries -- but Bashkortostan keeps silent," Kiriyenko said.

"The regions must understand that they should not be competing with each other; the competition is more serious," he said, referring to global rivals.

But Nikolai Devyatkin, chairman of the Perm region legislative assembly, said development within the regions was impossible without a clearly defined development strategy for the country as a whole. "If every region chose its own area of development, at some stage we would have to correct it when the federal strategy appeared," he said. "It is much better to define our main priorities within the framework of a unified strategy for the country."

Yury Trutnev, governor of the Tver region, agreed. "What we really want from the government is to tell us the priorities of the country in the world market," he said. "We need to understand what must be done at the federal level and what belongs to the regional level.

"We need these concepts to develop and match one another. Otherwise I am afraid we will be too late to ever adapt to global competition," he said.

Discussion also focused on social policies and the need for continued welfare reform.

"We should shift from the passive policy of just giving support cash to families in need that allow them to survive to a policy of personal growth, of the development of people's potential," said Tatyana Margolina, deputy governor of the Perm region.

Perm has already moved ahead of other regions in its efforts to reform its social policies. In the Motovilikhinsky district, for example, the regional administration last year implemented a project in cooperation with the Institute of Urban Economics, which has a Moscow-based fund, and USAID, through which 66 adults in multi-children families received jobs and began to support themselves. "Out of 54 families that we contacted, six months later, 45 still had jobs," said Kirill Chagin, who works for the Institute of Urban Economics.

Eight similar projects are now being set up in the Perm region.

Speaking Tuesday, Kiriyenko said he was positive about the results of the forum this year. "For me, the depth with which all the issues were detailed and discussed here was unexpected," he said.