Vienna, October 17 – In order to secure approval of popular referenda amalgamating small non-Russian districts with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian federation subjects, Moscow promised that the former units would become “administrative-territorial units with a special status.”
But in the eight years since this process begun, neither the central Russian powers that be nor the leaderships of the newly amalgamated subjects have lived up to these promises, leading to demands by the non-Russians that the situation be rectified, putting at risk any further amalgamation, and exacerbating centrifugal forces in the country as a whole.
In an analysis of this problem posted on the Irkutsk portal Babr.ru, Anton Uvachan provides a detailed description of promises not kept, rising anger among the non-Russian communities and the political difficulties Moscow and the new regional elites are creating for themselves as a result (news.babr.ru/?IDE=81595).
Shortly after he became president, Vladimir Putin argued that reducing the number of federation subjects would both make the government more efficient and ensure the territorial integrity of the country. And he was instrumental in pushing through a federal law in December 2001 to start this process.
Although many commentators expected that Putin would cut the number of federation subjects to perhaps half of the 89 he had inherited, in fact, in the intervening period, the number has been reduced only by six – and all of them involve the “weakest and most depressed subjects, the autonomous districts” of the Russian North and Far East.
In December 2005, the Komi-Permyak autonomous district was included within a new Perm kray. In January 2007, the Evenk and Taymyr AOs became part of Krasnoyarsk kray. In July 2007, the Koryak AO became part of Kamchatka kray. In January 2008, the Ust-Orda AO became part of a new Transbaikal kray (which consisted mostly of the former Irkutsk oblast). And in March 2008, the Agin-Buryat AO became part of Chita oblast.
But despite Moscow’s plans, this program of unification has clearly slowed down, Uvachan says, with no resolution of the issues of uniting the Nenets AO and Arkhangelsk oblast, Altay Kray and the Altay Republic, Khakasia and Krasnoyarsk kray, the Jewish AO and Khabarovsk kray, St. Petersburg and Leningrad oblast, and Krasnodar kray and Adygeya.
A major reason that resistance to amalgamation is growing, Uvachan says, is that people in the non-Russian districts that have been joined to larger Russian ones have not been shy in telling others that the promises Moscow and Russian regional leaders made to them before the referenda have not been kept.
In every case, the Irkutsk researcher continues, the non-Russians were told that even after amalgamation, their regions would have special rights because they would become “administrative-territorial units with a special status,” with greater control over their own affairs, quotas for representation in regional assemblies, and continued assistance from Moscow.
These promises in many cases were enshrined in law, but, Uvachan points out, “in the execution of this law, there have been serious problems,” including in particular, “the loss of taxes which they earlier had been able to receive as a subject of the Federation” and the loss of control over many issues of concern to their titular nationalities.
Indeed, Uvachan argues, what has taken place as an increasing number of the non-Russians know see, is, “not the unification [of two or more federal subjects] but the swallowing up of one subject by another” in direct violation of Putin’s statements and the provisions of Russian Federation legislation on this point.
The new regions have gone through the motions of trying to define a status for these new acquisitions, the researcher continues. In Krasnoyarsk kray, for example, a special working group was created to do that, but after two years, it was “quietly liquidated” without any published report or any steps being taken.
Russian legal specialists, like Moscow State University’s I.V. Leksin and the Moscow Institute of State and Law’s M.V. Gligich-Zolotaryev have called on the central government to take action to clear up what they say is “a quite cloudy” portion of Russian legislation. But so far little or nothing has happened.
Consequently, Uvachan says, people in the former Federation subjects are becoming angry. In Evenkia, he notes, they are calling for giving the special districts both access to federal revenue streams and a veto over kray budgets, special rights over local affairs, elected district officials, and the right to send delegates to the Federation Council in Moscow.
If those steps were taken, of course, these “special status” districts would be equivalent to the Federation subjects they used to be. And that may be the point. In November 2008, people in the Taymyr “went into the streets” with precisely that demand, and now, some in Evenkia are calling for the same thing.
Such attitudes could spread, Uvachan suggests, because “without real mechanisms of compensating the subjects” that are to be absorbed, not only will future amalgamation projects be put at risk, but the country may face “a new crisis and new centrifugal attitudes in the national-territorial formations and not only in them.”
And the Irkutsk writer says that all Russian citizens have a vested interest in this process, however marginal many of them may think it is. In order to develop and thus hold the Russian North and Far East, the government needs to make it profitable for people to move there, something that won’t happen if the center ignores the needs of the non-Russians there.
“At the present time,” Uvachan continues, “it is already possible” as Russian travelers to China have reported back on their return “to buy freely on the streets of Beijing, atlases with the swatch of territory of Russia from Vladivostok to the Urals bearing the words ‘a temporarily occupied territory.’”