Baku, February 4 – In an indication of just how important the amalgamation of the Nenets Autonomous District with Arkhangelsk oblast is to President Vladimir Putin, Russian officials at the urging of his man on the seen have threatened Nenets activists with unemployment if they continue to press for a vote against combining the two.
Over the last two months, Nenets activists have unsuccessfully sought to register two initiative groups campaigning against unification with the larger and poorer Arkhangelsk region and failed three times to secure official approval for a referendum on that question.
One reason for their failures to secure such approval is that some of those who originally backed a referendum withdrew their support at the last moment, thus allowing the election commission in Arkhangelsk to deny their application on procedural rather than substantive grounds.
That they had been turned down was known two weeks ago, but now a Sobkor report describes just how far Russian officials on the scene are now prepared to go to ensure that they can deliver the amalgamation of these regions that the Kremlin very much wants (http://www.sobkorr.ru/news/2/47A1B1F719EBB.html)
In the second half of January, Ilya Klebanov, the Presidential plenipotentiary for the Northwest Federal District, dispatched one of his aides to Arkhangelsk for a closed-door meeting to discuss the “Nenets problem,” Aleksandr Vyucheyskiy, the head of the Yasavey Association of the Nenets People, told the Sobkor correspondent.
Klebanov’s representative made it clear that amalgamation must go forward and that no referendum must be held, and shortly thereafter, some of those from the Nenets region who had signed the petition for such a vote withdrew their support, allowing the election commission to rule against the application.
At least some of them were told, Vyucheyskiy said, that they could face “problems at their workplaces if they did not withdraw.” Most of those involved in the initiative, he continued, were “entrepreneurs, and no one [especially among that group] wants to have problems with the organs.” As a result, the group fell apart.
A major reason Nenets entrepreneurs and Nenets residents are opposed to the amalgamation of their federal subject with Arkhangelsk is that their territory far wealthier than the Russian oblast and thus likely to see its wealth drained off to take care of the poorer but larger region.
In 2007, average incomes in the Nenets Autonomous District were approximately 20,000 rubles (810 U.S. dollars) each month, double the figure for Arkhangelsk. If officials in the newly combined area reduce this inequality by shifting money to Russian workers, more Nenets will protest, even if in the short term that costs them their jobs.