Friday, November 12, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Blocks Unification of Moscow City and Oblast, Effectively Killing Putin’s Amalgamation Plan -- at Least for Now

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 12 – Moscow city and Moscow oblast officials will work more closely and coordinate their activities, according to Russian press reports, but there is “no talk in the Kremlin” about combining them into a single federal subject as many had expected when Sergey Sobyanin replaced Yury Luzhkov as the city’s mayor.
And while coordination between the two may serve many of the same purposes, especially given that Sobyanin is likely to play the dominant role over oblast governor Boris Gromov, the decision of the leadership not to go forward effectively kills further regional amalgamation efforts until at least after the 2012 presidential vote.
Beyond Moscow, that affects St. Petersburg and Leningrad oblast first of all and then those smaller non-Russian republics Vladimir Putin had sought to unite with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions. But it may be read as a victory for President Dmitry Medvedev even though the media stressed Putin opposes uniting the city and oblast as well.
As “Vedomosti” reported today, Mayor Sobyanin and Governor Gromov met in the latter’s residence, the first time that has happened for many years but something that they pledged to make a regular event. And the two agreed to “synchronize” their efforts, especially in the transporation area (
But what they did not discuss was “the fusion” of the city and oblast, despite widespread expectations among commentators in recent weeks that precisely that issue would be on the table. “On the contrary,” the Moscow paper reported, “several Kremlin officials asserted that this question is closed.”
Besides his obvious ambition, Sobyanin had been widely assumed interested in combining the two federal subjects because his “main achievement” while governor of Tyumen was the conversion of the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamal-Nenets autonomous districts into donor subjects in a quiet way that did not disturb business interests.
The Kremlin officials with whom “Vedomosti” talked said that the Moscow mayor would not be given permission to absorb the oblast. According to the paper, “both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are skeptical about the idea of combining” these federal subjects.
“This is a collegial decision,” the Kremlin sources added, “the theme of fusion is not to be raised anymore.” But if both Medvedev and Putin agreed on this point, their reasons almost certainly were very different. Medvedev appears to believe that redrawing borders within the Russian Federation gains little or nothing and is not worth pursuing for its own sake.
Putin in contrast is the primary advocate of regional amalgamation. His reported opposition to this in the case of Moscow city and Moscow oblast may thus have more to do with a political calculation that the formation of such a mega-region could end by making Sobyanin a formidable political force in his own right, perhaps the third most powerful official in Russia.
“Especially at the present time,” another Kremlin official said, any talk of combining units is not to be allowed. “Until the presidential elections, no one wants to create a megaregion or increase dramatically the power of Sobyanin.” But that leaves open the question of what will happen after 2012, the paper said.
According to one group of Kremlin insiders, “the question [of combining at least these two federal subjects] is closed forever.” Taking that step in their minds would be counter-productive. But “according to another” group, “the question after the elections could be raised again.”
At the same time, one “federal official,” not further identified, told the paper that “fantastic projects are being considered,” including one that would divide up Moscow oblast in “a capital” subject and “the remainder.” But it seems unlikely that such a project could gain ground because of the constitutional requirements for a referendum.
Indeed, “Vedomosti” suggested, the only thing that might push the two federal subjects to combine sooner would be the adoption of LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s bill to allow the Duma and the Federation Council to change the borders of a region or regions without particular reference to what the people or leaders of those regions want or think.

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