Vienna, June 29 – Vladimir Putin’s effort to reduce the number of federal subjects by combining them, one that has been stalled since last fall because of resistance in many places and because of the parliamentary and presidential elections, may be about to start up again at the center itself through the combination of the city of Moscow and Moscow oblast.
That is suggested by the publication yesterday of a country-wide poll on that possibility by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), a group that known for closely coordinating both the subjects of its research and the timing of their publication with the Russian government (wciom.ru/novosti/press-vypuski/press-vypusk/single/10460.html).
Indeed, while the results of this poll are interesting, its appearance now is far more significant not only because of what it says about the problems the Kremlin will face even in those two predominantly Russian regions but also about the Russian government’s commitment to continue a policy that Putin made one of the centerpieces of his presidency.
Across the Russian Federation, 36 percent of the sample said they favored the unification of the city of Moscow and Moscow oblast, while 26 percent said they did not, figures little changed from two years ago, when the relationship was 37 percent for and 29 percent against this idea.
But in Moscow itself and the other Russian capital St. Petersburg, the situation was different: Although the fraction of those supporting unification rose from 27 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in this poll, the number of those opposed to unification remained just where it was at 48 percent. (At least in part, this reflects recent media discussions in St. Petersburg itself.)
Just over a quarter – 27 percent – of the countrywide sample said that the residents of the oblast would benefit from unification more than the residents of the city. Only 10 percent said that city residents would benefit more, with 18 percent saying both would benefit and 12 percent saying both would lose.
In the two capitals, however, VTsIOM reported, “the number of those who see benefit only for the city of Moscow has grown over the last two years from six to 11 percent or only for the oblast from 31 to 38 percent, with the number of those who say both will benefit or suffer equally declining, a polarization that changes the politics of such a move.
Among the positive consequences, respondents pointed to an increase in the standard of living of oblast residents, the creation of more jobs, the expansion of land for urban development, the reduction of officials, and a reduction in the different in the standard of living between Moscow and the rest of the country.
Among the negative consequences, Russians told VTsIOM, would be an increase in housing prices in Moscow oblast and the city’s take-over of more land for dense urban development, more problems with transportation, an increase in the number of officials, and an increase in the difference in the standard of living between Moscow and the rest of the country.
That participants in the poll drew such opposite conclusions on officialdom and standard of living shows how political an issue this is and also how little reliable information most Russians have about the amalgamation of regions besides their knowledge that it is something Putin very much wants.
The appearance of this poll does not mean that the amalgamation of the city and oblast of Moscow will happen in the near term. On the one hand, there are problems even with the formal process: In order to stay within the constitution, a referendum has to be organized and carried out, no small task in a region with so many people.
And on the other, this suggestion that the Russian government is planning such a step is certain to generate resistance among officials in both the city and the oblast who may see their own power decline and also among officials in other regions of the country – such as Adygeia -- who know that if these two units combine, they are likely to be next.