Staunton, November 19 – Officials from six predominantly ethnic Russian regions in the Central Federal District have been quietly discussing consolidating into a single unit, something Moscow would like if it were running the process but a measure that could challenge the center’s control if it takes place spontaneously from below.
On the one hand, such steps taken from below could spark a parade of specific unifications or demands for unifications that Moscow does not want, much as the efforts to create broader Russian entities like the ill-starred Urals Republic in the early 1990s or the calls more recently for the amalgamation of Circassian units into a single republic.
And on the other hand, because this process is again beginning within predominantly Russian regions, it could result in changing the balance away from the predominantly Russian regions, at least in numbers, exactly the reverse of the intention Vladimir Putin had when he began the current push for regional amalgamation in 2004.
Representatives of Voronezh, Belgorod, Kursk, Lipetsk, Orlov and Tambov oblasts met in Voronezh to discuss unification out of a belief, Aleksey Chichkin says in an essay on the Stoletiye.ru portal, they cannot hope to improve their social-economic situation unless they combine (www.stoletie.ru/russkiiy_proekt/chtob_ne_propast_poodinochke_2010-11-16.htm).
This session, Chichkin continues, as not covered in the local media “for obvious reasons: so that no one could ‘suspect’ the powers that be there in seeking to change the administrative map of Central European Russia” because of the extreme sensitivity of such issues in the Russian Federation.
But as the Stoletiye.ru commentator points out, this region actually has a long history of border changes with territories being shifted from one to another, many of which transfers occurred under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and which reflected the same kind of “anti-Russian” policy that led Moscow to transfer Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine.
Khrushchev’s approach, which was not rectified by his successors, Chichkin notes, left these central Russian oblast with fewer natural resources and hence economic possibilities and made them more dependent on energy and raw material deliveries from Siberia and non-Russian republics as well as on the central powers that be to ensure such transfers.
As the result of the Soviet policies of 50 or more years ago, parts of Omsk, and Chkalov (Orenburg), oblasts as well as portions of Altay kray and the Gorno-Altay AO were transferred to Kazakhstan. And parts of Krasnodar kray were given to Adygeya and parts of Stavropol kray to Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkara, Chechen-Ingushetia, and Daghestan.
Moreover, Chichkin points out, “many of the large oblasts” in Central Russia, including Boronezh and the Central Black Earth ones, “were split up into smaller” oblasts and further reduced in size by the transfer of many of the districts along their borders to build up neighboring oblasts, all shifts that left these predominantly ethnic Russian areas weaker.
In the center of this, Moscow in January 1954 created Lipetsk oblast out of districts from Voronezh, Tambov, Ryazan, Kursk and Orlov oblasts, an action that a Tambov economist says “reduced not only the territory but the social-economic vitality of the ‘donor’ oblasts” and virtually ensured that neither those giving nor those receiving could make it on their own.
In short, Chichkin continues, “the Russophobic line of the Kremlin after 1953 was conducted in many regions and therefore it is not surprising that after the disintegration of the USSR and, as a result of this policy, the social economic crisis became a chronic feature throughout this region” of the Russian Federation.
Poverty, as well as the geographic and social-economic similarity of these six oblasts, as well as their memory of being part of a single unit in the 1920s and 1930s when they formed a major part of the Central Black Earth kray, has “stimulated” thinking now about forming a single and much larger territory.
Just what it would look like if it happens is unclear. The governors involved “are keeping quiet in public,” and experts disagree, although many of them, Chichkin argues, believe that some form of “inter-oblast” administration is necessary, either as a first step toward amalgamation or as an end in itself.
The experts in the area point to the advantages of combining agricultural processing industries, creating new work places in agriculture and industry, and reducing the burden of administration by having one center rather than six. But that may be the rock on which this founders: if these six did combine, many officials would likely lose their jobs.