Monday, April 30, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russia Seen Becoming – Again – a Country of Krays

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 30 – President Vladimir Putin’s plan to eliminate the country’s non-Russian entities by combining them with predominantly ethnic Russian ones is running into ever more resistance, but one Moscow analyst last week outlined just what a Putin-redesigned Russian Federation might ultimately look like.
In his campaign to reduce the number of federal subjects by eliminating first the so-called ‘matryoshka’ ethnic republics that have existed within Russian oblasts and krays, President Putin until recently has had an uninterrupted string of victories in the referenda such constitutional changes require.
At the end of 2005, he secured the combination of the Komi-Permyak Autonomous District with Perm Oblast into a new Perm kray. This year, he arranged the folding in of the Taymyr and Evenk Autonomous Districts with Krasnoyarsk kray. And his initiatives of the same kind have been backed in Kamchatka, Transbaikal and Irkutsk.
Over the last year, however, Putin has been forced to back down on plans to fold in Adygeia into Krasnodar kray, and his representatives acknowledge that the combination of the poor Arkhangel oblast with the richer Nenets Autonomous District will not happen anytime soon (
The changes so far and those which Putin appears to want for the future were the subject last week of a remarkably detailed and heavily footnoted article by Moscow commentator Yuriy Bazhenov who argued that Moscow in the future will make the Russian Federation a country of krays (
Bazhenov, who attracted attention earlier this year for an attack on separatism among ethnic Russians (, uses his latest article to describe the way in which Russian governments have used krays before, the reasons Moscow should do so again, and how they country would be divided if it does so.
According to Bazhenov, “historically in Russia, peripheral territories were called krays.” St. Petersburg referred to Ukraine as a kray in the 17th century, and the Russian empire formally designated the Caucasus and Turkestan as krays at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, the Soviet government expanded on this tradition, forming a total of 14 krays before deciding to eliminate most of them when Moscow created more formally autonomous ethnic territories. But even after that, at the end of the Soviet period, there were in the RSFSR six krays, to which Perm already has been added.
The basic reasons Moscow is now turning toward the kray as its preferred form of federal subject, Bazhenov continues, are to eliminate “the hidden separatist potential” rooted in ethno-territorial units and to prevent economic inequality among the country’s regions from generating new secessionist challenges.
Bazhenov then outlines five principles on the basis of which Moscow can re-divide the country into krays. First, such an arrangement would mean that all subjects of the Federation would have “equal legal status” – just as is the case in other federal states around the world.
Second, krays can bear geographical names rather than ethnic ones, something that reduces the chance that local leaders can mobilize people against Moscow. Third, krays can be created by combining existing structures rather than by redrawing maps, an alternative approach likely to create more problems.
Fourth, krays can thus be set up without challenging the division of Russia’s territory into seven federal districts. And fifth, krays, unlike some other form of administrative-territorial divisions, not only are “traditional” for Russia but seven of them already exist there.
Bazhenov devotes the remainder of his article to a detailed description of how he sees the borders of this new system of krays, including not only which existing units would be combined but also what the new krays would be called and how Moscow and the krays could select political capitals for each of them.
In each case, Bazhenov draws on earlier Soviet and Russian experiences, and he concludes that such a Russia would have 38 krays in all, a number that he insists roughly parallels the number of federal units in other large countries around the world and that is both politically and economically advantageous for the Russian Federation as a state.
“In principle,” he admits, “the administrative-territorial division could be somewhat different. But divergences from the proposed project are likely to be small. Over the course of the entire history of Russia, the names and borders of the regions included within it have changed, but the general trends have remained unchanged.”
And consequently, even if this project now appears to many observers to be on hold, once it resumes, Bazhenov insists, it seems certain that it will move in the directions he describes – creating a country with far fewer federal units and one in which each of these units will be called a kray.

UPDATE ON MAY 3: Gennadiy Oleynik, chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on the North, has added his voice to those who oppose combining small non-Russian regions with larger ones, at least in the area of his responsibility. Folding the the small non-Russian regions into larger Russian ones, he said, could deprive these peoples of their traditional hunting and fishing areas and thus likely cause these nationalities to “die out” (

No comments: