The foreign trade revolution. – Everything has changed in Russian foreign trade. Meanwhile, Comecon no longer exists, with its particular rules and internal preferential relations. Above all, a large part of what was internal trade with the USSR has become foreign trade for Russia.
The exchanges between the Soviet Union republics were intense, and their volume was much greater, at least five times according to conservative estimates, than that of the exchanges between the whole Union and the rest of the world. This depended both on the obvious greater ease of trade, and on the economic diversification and specialization of the various republics, which was especially desired by Stalin also to favor their interdependence and therefore their cohesion. Today these exchanges have become international, between sovereign member states of the CIS, and if on the one hand there is some simplification due to having some of them – but in gradually decreasing numbers – kept the ruble as a common currency, on the other hand prices , taxes, tolls, customs barriers, and even requests for payment in dollars, they are often used by new states as pressure tools in their political, ethnic or territorial disputes. In any case, when we do not return to traditional bartering, it is the prices of the international free market that are adopted as reference elements in intra-CIS trade. Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Uzbekistan in order absorb 85% of Russia’s trade with his former empire.
For the year 1992 the first reliable data on the total value of the foreign trade of the Russian Federation, expressed in dollars and therefore comparable at international level, was obtained: 38 billion dollars in exports and 35 billion in imports. Modest figures, which place Russia in 20th place in the international ranking of foreign trade (therefore after countries such as Austria or Sweden), but perfectly explainable by the trauma of a country, which in terms of economic relations with the abroad has literally entered another world.
Trade by sea, and this is a positive aspect, continues to make use of a considerable commercial fleet, equal to 2/3 of the old Soviet fleet and in 9th place among the world’s navies. Novorossijsk and Tuapse, on the coastal stretch of the Black Sea left to the Russia, are today the two main ports, followed by Vostocny (the new container port on the Sea of Japan) and finally by the old St. Petersburg on the Baltic. From a commodity point of view, mining products continue to represent the bulk of exports (54%, in value, in 1992), while machinery, equipment and vehicles (39%) prevail upon imports, followed by agro-food products ( 27%).
The reorganization of the urban network and the post-socialist Russian city. – The Soviet Union had an overall balanced urban network, quite adherent to the rank-dimension model at least in the upper rungs of the hierarchy of cities. In Moscow, the undisputed metropolis with its nearly 9 million residents, Leningrad was the counterweight, with a population roughly equal to half; third largest city by population was Kijev, with a little less than 1/3 of the residents of Moscow, followed by Tashkent with exactly 1/4 of the capital’s population, and by Minsk with a little less than 1/5. Today, however, Kijev has become the capital of the new Ukrainian state, Tashkent of the new Uzbek state, Minsk of the new Belarusian state, and even Harkov, one of the largest Soviet cities of the past, has remained outside the borders of the Russian Federation. The current picture of the Russian urban hierarchy therefore appears as follows (population data, in millions of residents, as of 1993): Moscow 8.7; St. Petersburg 4.4; Nizhny-Novgorod 1.4; Novosibirsk 1.4; Jekaterinburg 1.4; Samara 1,2; Omsk 1.2; Chelyabinsk 1.1; Kazan 1.1; Perm 1.1; Ufa 1.1; Rostov 1.0; Caricyn 1.0. After the two traditional metropolises, therefore, there is a sort of dimensional void – which inevitably also becomes a functional void – and then we move on to a plethora of millionaire cities, substantially equivalent to each other in demographic weight and endowment of services.
One might think that this is the ideal situation for a federal state: except that 11 of the 13 major cities listed above are concentrated in a single federated republic, that of the Russia in the strict sense, which thus reconfirms its dominance within the Federation. Only Kazan and Ufa are capitals, respectively, of the federated republics of the Tatars and Bashkirs, while the other republican capitals do not exceed half a million residents. It is too early to report changes in the internal structure of Russian cities, seen in the past as prototypes of a socialist city, that is, of an ideal urban model opposed to or at least diversified from the capitalist city. For now, only in the major cities, and especially in Moscow, do there appear signs of change in the urban face, such as the multiplication of commercial establishments, the opening of hotels, international chains, the appearance of advertising signs, the elimination of those aspects of street furniture (such as statues, signs and writings) that were variously connected to the communist past, finally, the purge of the street toponymy of the regime. The construction of new cities or satellites has been at a standstill, but it had already been for a while, which has never been extraneous, moreover, not even to capitalist urban planning. Finally, the fate of the “closed cities”, once specialized in the military industry and not accessible to foreigners, is uncertain.