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The Kremlin evidently sees worse trouble ahead. In December it shelved plans to retire 280,000 Army officers (part of a sweeping military reform). A long-expected reduction in the number of Interior Ministry troops was also abruptly canceled. At the same time, the Interior Ministry set up a special command center in Moscow, packed with surveillance equipment designed to deal with street unrest.
The biggest threat lies in cities like Magnitogorsk—company towns that are dominated by a single industry. Russia has an unusually high number of them: a quarter of the population is estimated to live and work in one of roughly 1,500 "monotowns," as they are called. They're relics of the old Soviet-era command economy, dating back to Stalin's efforts to create an industrialized nation overnight. They are especially vulnerable in this frightening global downturn. "Our plant has been the main employer in this city for 80 years," says MMK (the steel plant's Russian initials) spokeswoman Elena Azovtseva. "When this plant stops, everything here stops."