Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Deputies Cautiously Support Kremlin’s Agglomeration Plan

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 24 – Russian parliamentarians overwhelmingly believe that it is possible and even necessary to improve the territorial organization of their country, but most of them are reacting with caution to a proposal being developed by the Kremlin and the government to organize the country not as now in 83 subjects but around 20 major urban centers.
That is the conclusion the editors of the portal reach on the basis of their survey of parliamentary opinion about the plan, described in “Vedomosti” last week, a project the details of which are still sketchy but one that would address the problems of linking Russia’s regions more closely together (
Russia’s enormous expanse and the distance between the cities and towns has been “a headache” for the country’s leadership “for several decades,” says in introducing the views of some of those deputies with whom its journalists spoke. At the end of Soviet times, Moscow sought to combine villages and towns, “liquidating” those with the fewest prospects.
Consequently, it should not come as any surprise that “this process now involves cities as well. The pluses from the concentration of population points and resources are obvious.” But equally obvious are “the minuses,” because such a program would leave Russia a very different country than it is today.
When Soviet officials combined and eliminated villages, the news service continues, the issue was discussed primarily in terms of morality. Now, “in the era of globalization,” people are discussing it more in terms of its “social-demographic dimension” and asking whether by creating large vacant areas this project could “threaten the country’s national security.”
Vladimir Gusev, a senator from Saratov who is the first deputy chairman of the Federation Council economics committee, told that he viewed the new program “without enthusiasm.” Perhaps some places need to be combined, but dismissing others as without prospects is wrong: “wherever people live, there are always prospects.”
Vadim Gustov, who represents Vladimir oblast in the Federation Council, took a somewhat different position. He said he favors amalgamating Russian regions, but this must be done carefully and slowly. “Of the existing 83 regions, one must not try to make ten all at once.” But he dismissed the notion that a smaller number than now would destroy Russia’s uniqueness.
Meanwhile, Nikolay Ryzhkov, who represents Belgorod oblast in the Federation Council and chairs that body’s commission on natural monopolies, said that while it was obvious there were a lot of regions in the country, one should approach any change in their borders or numbers very “carefully.”
Eliminating the so-called “matryoshka” units is one thing, but if the new plan threatens the existence of the non-Russian republics, he said, there could be trouble. (Just how much has been suggested by Rashit Akhmetov, editor of “Zvezda Povolzhya,” who argues it could lead to the disintegration of the Russian Federation (
But Aleksandr Moskalets, a United Russia Duma deputy, argues that the proposed changes in the political map of Russia were “completely possible” and that “both the government and legal system of [Russia] are prepared for this.” Moreover, he expressed confidence that this reorganization would bring order to the regions, save money and promote modernization.
And another United Russia Deputy, Yevgeny Bogomolny, vice chairman of the Duma committee on property, said no one should be concerned about some sort of “possible ‘de-colonization’ of the territory of Russia” if this plan is implemented. Rather, people should see it as another step forward made possible by improved transportation and communications links.
Agglomerations once created, he argued, “would allow for an increase in migration flows within the country, lead to the creation of new productive units, to the equalization of social-economic conditions [among the regions] and to a fuller use of the human potential” of Russians and hence a better life for all.
Bogomolny said that people should be ready to admit that there are cities in the country which are living “not in the 20th century but in the 19th” and building new ones alongside them with all kinds of modern infrastructure rather than trying to update existing ones is a cost effective strategy.
Valery Zubov, a Just Russia deputy in the Duma, said he viewed the plan as completely justified because of “the real problems” that the current “imperfect territorial organization of Russia” create or exacerbate. But like others, he said that any change must be done gradually rather than all at once and must involve residents at each stage.
And finally, Valery Seleznev, an LDPR Duma deputy, said he backed amalgamating regions, especially those in border areas of the country like Astrakhan and Volgograd oblasts and Primorsky and Khabarovsk krays, as long as everyone pays attention to the areas in between as well.
Those areas, he continued, should be developed through land grants and other forms of government assistance so that outside of the 20 new agglomerations the plan calls for, the Russian people will gain a productive agricultural sector, one capable of feeding the cities and exporting food as well.

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