January 5, 2017
By Paul Goble

Few in the West had ever heard of Narva, the city of some 60,000 residents, more than 80 percent of whom are ethnic Russians, located on the eastern border of Estonia until Vladimir Putin’s propagandists, in the wake of the Russian Anschluss of Crimea, raised the question in NATO capitals, “are you prepared to die for Narva?”

That question was intended to sap Western support for its NATO ally, Estonia, and more generally for NATO countries neighboring Russia and threatened by Putin’s aggressive stance. But it had exactly the opposite effect, leading ever more people in the West to recognize that unless they were prepared to defend Narva, they would be destroying the Western alliance.

And their actions have led some commentators to say that the person the question “are you prepared to die for Narva?” should be directed to is Putin, who by asking it has helped to revive NATO and underscored the reality that the Kremlin dictator is quite prepared to go to the brink of nuclear war to try to achieve his ends.

But now, as even Russian news agencies concede, there is another reason to focus on Narva and ask what may prove an even more explosive question about Russia and the West. Narva is prospering while Ivangorod, the Russian town just across the river from it, is slipping ever further behind.

The reason such a question is so provocative is that the ethnic Russians in Narva, a city in a NATO country, are doing far better than the ethnic Russians in the Russian Federation currently ruled by Putin, a pattern that indicates just where the responsibility for their success in the former and their failure in the latter belongs.

Today, picking up a BaltNews.ee report, Russia’s Regnum news agency reported that in 2016, the city of Narva invested more than four million euros (five million US dollars) in construction and reconstruction of roads, housing and other social infrastructure (regnum.ru/news/economy/2224073.html).

Building on those accomplishments, the Narva mayor’s office says, the city will be expanding its investment projects in the coming year, refurbishing two major squares, building new schools, extending the river promenade (facing the Russian side), and upgrading and expanding its tourist infrastructure as well.

During the past year, the Narva leaders continue, “the entire complex of services and subsidies allowing for timely help for urban residents with local incomes, elderly people, families with children, and people with special needs was preserved intact in 2016,” an achievement the EU has recognized and praised.

Meanwhile, just across the Narva River in Ivangorod, Russia, the situation is very different. Incomes are stagnating or falling for its 10,000 residents. The city has fewer resources than before to provide social services because of cutbacks in Moscow’s transfer payments. And the prospects for the future are anything but bright.

Russians clearly recognize this: There is currently a two-kilometer line of cars leaving Russia and seeking entry into Estonia for the holidays; there is no such line of cars leaving Estonia and seeking entry into Russia