Friday, January 22, 2010

Window on Eurasia: United Russia Plan Suggests Moscow Plans New Push for Regional Amalgamation

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 22 – A new plan on the reconfiguration of the Russian federal system, worked out by a United Russia commission and described in advance by Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, may presage a renewal of Vladimir Putin’s currently stalled effort to reduce the number of federal subjects by amalgamating the weak with the strong.
Indeed, the plans as described by Gryzlov is so sweeping and radical that the kind of steps Putin has pushed in the past will appear moderate and thus more acceptable to many, although for many others, the plan’s radicalism may trigger a new wave of resistance in many parts of the Russian Federation to Moscow, possibly leading to a new political crisis.
In order to produce “a responsible government, a responsible parliament, and a responsible electorate,” the United Russia plan calls for beginning reforms “from below” rather than in Moscow and addressing power relationship within and among the subjects of the Russian Federation (
According to Gryzlov, Moscow should insist that the federal subjects be self-supporting, demanding that the governments of those that are not change their policies or combining those federal subjects with others. In addition, he said, Moscow should standardize the titles of the heads and parliaments of these subjects.
As Aleksandra Samarina and Ivan Rodin of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” point out, however, Gryzlov and United Russia ignore both that there are few regions capable of standing on their own – at present, only 13 of the federal subjects are “donor” regions and that Moscow already has arrangements for controlling financial flows in the finances of weaker ones.
For those reasons as well as others, the journalists report, many are approaching this idea with skepticism. Sergey Reshulsky, the coordinator of the KPRF fraction in the Duma, dismissed it as a test of public opinion and pointed out that under its terms most of the subjects would have to be “united with Moscow.”
Dmitry Orlov, the head of the Moscow Agency of Political and Economic Communication, told the paper that the wealthier regions would be sure to resist: why should they take on poorer areas if Moscow was not going to help them with the burdens they would assume by agreeing to the new combinations.
Meanwhile, Aleksey Makarkin, the deputy general director of the Center of Political Technologies, said that the weaker regions would resist as well. If their federation subjects were combined with others, they would become mere districts, and there would be no positions of governor or vice governor.
Because resistance to such a program is guaranteed, Aleksey Chesnakov, the director of the Moscow Center of Political Conjunctions, said that it was his impression that the whole idea “was more an invitation to discussion” than an actual program – at least, he continued, for the immediate future.
All three of these analysts are certainly correct, but at the same time, there is a very real possibility that Moscow, either in the person of President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has long been associated with the idea of regional amalgamation, has a more immediate goal.
And that goal is the amalgamation of the remaining autonomous districts into surrounding or neighboring and predominantly ethnic Russian krays. The leaders and peoples of these districts have fought Moscow to a standstill over this during the past several years, but now, it appears, the center may have decided on a new push.
If that is the case, however, United Russia and the center may have miscalculated. Not only do these non-Russian areas have the same reasons for opposing such amalgamation that they did several years ago, but they also have evidence that Moscow has lied to those who did go along about the benefits they would receive if they went along.
But there is another and perhaps more compelling reason this new plan may backfire. If Moscow really created a small number of self-supporting regions, the leaders of one or more of these new and larger units might begin to ask whether there was any reason to remain under a central government that seems committed to giving ever less and taking ever more.

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