Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Institute with Links to Medvedev Calls for Ending Putin’s Regional Amalgamation Plan

Paul Goble

Dayton, April 7 – The Institute of Contemporary Development, whose patrons include Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, says that the regional amalgamation effort current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been associated with has proved more problematic than useful and recommends that Moscow drop plans for any further combination of federal subjects.
Prepared under the direction of Yevgeny Gontmakher, noted for his discussion of Russia’s company town problem, the 175-page report both examines the consequences of those regional amalgamations that have already taken place and evaluates projects for further “unifications” in the future (
One of the report’s authors, Aleksandr Kynyev, who heads regional programs at the Moscow Foundation for the Development of Information Systems, stressed that there was no special reason the report was being released just now, pointing out that most of the text had been completed last year.
As the report notes, the program to amalgamate the regions, which began in 2003 in Perm, was presented by then-President Putin’s administration as part of a broader effort to strengthen the administration of the country by having, in the style of a corporation or military unit, “the strong company swallow the weak and either make it a success.”
If the public accepted this idea, experts who had warned against it were ignored. Indeed, the report continues, it can be said that the effort “was a reaction of the government to the crisis situation in society which was poorly adapted to changing realities and new demands and was not called forth by the need for the resolution of the task of developing the country.”
The Russian powers that be said at the time that amalgamation was necessary for three reasons: First, there were “contradictions in the administration of the [so-called] ‘matryoshka’ subjects [where one subject was entirely surrounded by another one].” Second, the existence of these smaller units “reduces the effectiveness of administration.
And third, Moscow said, “the social-economically stronger ‘mother’ territories (krays or oblasts) should become ‘the locomotives’ of the development of the districts since the majority of the districts were not large in terms of population or were economically weakly developed” compared to those around them.
To date, the Russian powers that be have carried out five such unifications. The amalgamation of Perm oblast and the Komi-Permyak autonomous district, of Krasnoyarsk kray with Evenkia and the Taymyr, of Komchatka and the Koryak district, and Irkutsk oblast with the Ust-Orda Buryat district at most meet “only one or two of the criteria,” the report says.
The combination of Chita oblast with the Agin autonomous district,” it adds, “did not correspond to any of them.” Chita itself is “a depressed region, and the district at the moment of unification had achieved successes in development, thanks to the tax breaks given to Russneft which was registered in that district.”
Moreover, subsequent developments have shown in every case that the amalgamation did not have the promised economic effect. Moreover, Moscow did not give the regions the extra money it had promised them in order to secure approval in the constitutionally required referenda.
The report suggests that political calculations rather than economic or administrative ones played a major role all of these moves, and it says that “the pilot project” in Perm highlighted this “exclusively political motivation.” Elsewhere, such as in Krasnoyarsk, other factors were had worked, but subsequent developments have not taken the course Moscow promised.
“The unification of Koryakia and Kamchatka is the clearest example of political trade,” the report says. There, the chief thing was to demonstrate that regional elites would follow Moscow’s orders, but to achieve the amalgamation, Moscow had to remove the governor of Koryakia and launch a criminal case against the Chukchi leader.
And, the Moscow report continues, “the unification of the Buryat districts with Chita and Irkutsk led to ethnic conflict,” because “Buryat national organizations and Buddhist lamas spoke out actively against” the submersion of Buryat and Buddhist areas into larger Russian and Orthodox divisions.
Despite the evidence that amalgamation is problematic at best, many officials, either by inertia or belief, continue to push the idea, the report says. There are two kinds of amalgamation still being discussed, it continues. The first involves the unification of Moscow and St. Petersburg with the surrounding oblasts.
And the second, the report says, concerns “certain ‘autonomous subjects,’ which [like the ‘matroyshka” subjects that have already been amalgamated} are included inside krays.” These include Khakasia and Krasnoyarsk kray, Altay and Altay kray, and Adygeya and Krasnodar kray.
Neither of these groups of projects has good prospects. The two in the first group, the report says, “are not capable of ‘essentially reducing the differences in level of development between the federal center-cities and the peripheral agglomerations” and appear to have more to do with “the political ambitions” of both central and local figures than anything else.
Those in the second, which might appear justified to some, entails in every case “far greater risks” including sparking greater ethnic tensions between the non-Russian districts and the Russian regions into which they would be drawn. Combing Krasnoyarsk and Khakasia might work, but the residents of the latter don’t want this step and might resist as well.
The same thing can be said about combining Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets districts with Tyumen. The former have every reason to be opposed: they together provide 95 percent of what would be the new kray’s economy and thus would likely stand to lose if they were folded into such a unit.
In their conclusion, the authors of the report say, that the future amalgamation of regions is “possible” but only “in the framework” of comprehensive democratic changes in the Russian political system. Simply continuing the current approach, they argue, will lead to “all kinds of conflicts from ecological to ethnic.”
The report is slated to be presented to the Administration of President Medvedev, and reports, that there “no one has in principle turned away from the idea of increasing the size of regions” by amalgamating smaller ones with larger federal subjects. But the report’s warning that going ahead is “playing with fire” may cause them to change their minds.

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