The Russian government is considering transferring part of federal government's functions to St. Petersburg, Governor Valentina Matviyenko of St. Petersburg said at a general meeting of U.S. Chamber of Commerce in St. Petersburg. "I will not disclose such resolutions without official permission," she said. "I can only say that the decision on this matter has been made and will be made public shortly."
However, the government's press service in Moscow said the government had not adopted any decision whatsoever on the transfer of federal functions from Moscow to any city. This will not frustrate those who know the press services' jargon, as according to government officials, a resolution is a decision written on an appropriate sheet of paper under seal and national emblem. Sometimes, resolutions have to be approved in parliament, but issues that have been decided verbally cannot be qualified as resolutions.
Interestingly, Russian government officials and the intellectual elite have always talked about St. Petersburg's special status. The city has held the informal title of "northern capital" since 1918 when the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
It is not that President Vladimir Putin, who comes from St. Petersburg, is promoting the city. His predecessor, President Boris Yeltsin was born in Sverdlovsk (currently known as Yekaterinburg) in the Urals, while Mikhail Gorbachev is from the southern Stavropol Region. None of the former leaders seriously discussed the possibility of transferring the capital to the east or the south, although there was talk about making Vladivostok, in the Far East, Russia's capital.
St. Petersburg is unique. The press has already proposed moving parliament and some of the ministries to St. Petersburg. It is not really important how economically and politically viable such proposals are because debates about the issue can help clarify what Russia is like as a state and a nation.
Life in many countries is concentrated in and around one megatropolis. In the Philippines, for example, no other city in the country is comparable to its capital, Manila. Indeed, more than 50% of production facilities are based in or around the capital whose population has reached 10 million. All major universities are also located in the city and the majority of educated population live there. This is also true of Mexico and its giant capital, Mexico City with a population of 20 million.
The United States is a different, as there are several equally significant cities in the country: New York, Log Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and others. However, Washington, D.C. is a minor and largely administrative city.
Like always, Russia, whose national emblem is a two-headed eagle, has chosen yet another option. Moscow ceased to be the capital when Czar Peter the Great built St. Petersburg 300 years ago. However, the city did not feel inferior to the new capital. Residents of Leningrad (St. Petersburg was re-named Leningrad during the Soviet Union) feared that it would degrade into a provincial, backward city. The economic and research successes, and the cultural achievements of Leningrad and later St. Petersburg dispelled such fears. Thus, Russia is a country with two major industrial, business, and intellectual centers that are almost equal to each other. While, its other cities are dragging far behind.
Do two capitals make sense? There were as many as four capital cities in ancient China, for example. In British India, the capital moved to Simla in the mountains in the summer. A capital's population must be numerous and well trained enough to perform all federal government duties. The majority of modern Russia's senior officials and Duma members are not Muscovites.
Dividing the government into two parts can be either organizationally impossible or costly. Government officialshave to constantly communicate with each other. Yet, other branches of government, the judiciary branch for example, could well be based somewhere else as they must retain their independence. The Supreme Court or the Constitution Court will probably be moved to St. Petersburg, although it is not clear what decisions Ms. Matviyenko spoke about at the meeting.