Thursday, January 17, 2008

Window on Eurasia: More Regional Unions in Russia – and Perhaps One Divorce

Paul Goble

Baku, January 17 – After a pause occasioned by the parliamentary elections in December, the Kremlin is again planning to merge some of Russia’s federal subjects into larger units, but so far, it is doing so more quietly in the past lest it stir up problems and lead other subjects to seek a divorce from its neighbor as one is now trying to do.
According to a report on the Fontanka news portal this week, President Vladimir Putin’s policy of amalgamating has been “completely successful,” and consequently, the Kremlin wants to arrange more such unions in the near future, including in the North-West Federal District (
There, the first two candidates for combination, the site’s Aleksei Yakushev says, are Novgorod and Pskov oblasts, an idea that has been discussed since at least 2003 but was shelved because of the opposition of oblast leaders who felt that it would lead at a minimum to their loss of office.
Despite his upbeat assessment of the amalgamations that have taken place so far, Yakushev notes that “any unification is definitely stressful for the regional elite which can work to sabotage these processes,” and consequently, “during the period of an election campaign, it is scarcely appropriate to push it forward.”
That’s why, he continues, that “this process of preparation for unifications at present had become not as public as was the case with earlier ones. All the documents are being prepared in the quiet of offices. But all the same, there are leaks” – and they point to the combination of Novgorod and Pskov oblasts later this year.
According to a “highly placed” but anonymous source in the administration of Novgorod, “this question has practically been decided at the highest levels” and will be announced and implemented through a referendum shortly after the March presidential elections.
But there is a second reason why the powers that be in Moscow may not want to talk very much about this in public: There have been problems with some of the amalgamations, particularly the one between Chita and the Agin-Buryat district, and one non-Russian district is trying for a referendum to cut its ties with a Russian one.
In the Transbaikal, officials from the two units have been having trouble bringing their respective regulations into line and agreeing on power sharing. Indeed, reports in the media there suggest that the two sides may be angrier at each other than they were when this process started (
And in the North, Officials in the Nenets Autonomous District have called for a vote to severe their region’s ties with Arkhangelsk. This is the third time they have sought permission, and the Regnum news agency suggests they won’t gain the election commissions’s approval this time either (
Konstantin Zhuravlev, a deputy of the Arkhangelsk oblast Assembly, told a Regnum reporter that “on a political level, the struggle for independence by residents of the Nenets elicits interest and respect, but to a great degree, this initiative is above all senseless.”
That is because, he continued, “the subjects of the Russian Federation do not feel themselves self-standing since, despite its status, our state is not federative. Today both Russian law and the financial-administrative system have been created for a unitary state.”
But if Moscow is in charge of all federal subjects, it nonetheless matters to smaller ones if larger ones absorb them and give them orders or take control of some of their income stream, as Arkhangelsk leaders have said they are doing in the Nenets AO (
Such comments are certain to infuriate the Nenets and to serve as yet another reason for them to seek a divorce from the Arkhangelsk authorities. And their anger would almost certainly be repeated elsewhere if the Kremlin were talking openly about combining more regions rather than seeking to do that quietly and behind the scenes.

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