Preparations Begin For New Amalgamation Push In Russia After 2012

Officials in some federal districts are preparing the legal basis for a new round of regional amalgamation after the 2012 presidential elections, an indication of both the pressures they are under and their expectations from that vote but also a step that is certain to provoke heightened discussion and tensions in the intervening period.

The Tatarstan State Council has set up a working group to come up with changes in that republic’s constitution that will among other things allow for the amalgamation of Tatarstan with Ulyanovsk and Kirov oblasts sometime after the upcoming Russian presidential elections (ulpressa.ru/news/2010/11/30/article139314/).

That new entity, which some are suggesting will be known as the Kazan Kray, would have approximately six million residents, just over a third of whom would be Tatars. Such a step, commentators in Tatarstan are suggesting, is part of the “soft reformation” of the Stalinist system of administrative-territorial divisions inherited form Soviet times.

Whether further moves in this direction will take place under Vladimir Putin’s push for regional amalgamation as such or under Dmitry Medvedev’s plan to focus on 20 modernizing urban centers remains to be seen, but Moscow clearly wants to end ethnically defined republics, the Tatars believe, viewing them as a source of separatist sentiments.

Meanwhile, the independent news portal Babr.ru reports, officials in the Kremlin are considering the unification of Krasnoyarsk kray with Khakassia, Tyva and Irkutsk oblast as well as joining together Novosibirsk, Kemerovo and Tomsk oblasts and the Altay kray and linking Buryatia with Chita oblast (news.babr.ru/?IDE=89954).

The timing of these reports is interesting. Given that they challenge not only the longstanding principle of ethnic republics inside the Russian Federation, including Tatarstan which has long been the flagship of such federal subjects, such announcements are likely to promote the nationalist and separatist sentiments Moscow clearly fears.

One possibility, of course, is that the opponents of any regional amalgamation, especially those involving non-Russian republics, may have taken the lead in putting this information into the public domain in the hope that opposition to any such steps will force Moscow to disown such plans or to back down altogether.

But even if that happens in any particular case, the appearance of these stories seems certain to provoke fears and anger in other non-Russian regions – and possibly in some ethnically Russian ones as well – that Moscow has decided to resume its campaign against the republics and the regions.

And that in turn is certain to lead to the appearance of more commentaries like one this week which argues that the basic tension in Russia is between the powers that be in Moscow and the leaderships and peoples of the federal subjects, non-Russian and predominantly ethnic Russia alike (www.ura.ru/content/urfo/01-12-2010/articles/1036255865.html).

In extremely harsh terms, Sverdlovsk political scientist Konstantin Kiselev makes two provocative arguments. On the one hand, he suggests, “the worse the regions live, the better things become in Moscow and just the reverse as well.” And on the other, he argues, Moscow and the Muscovites are “the main base” of Vladimir Putin’s power position.

As a result, he suggests, for residents and officials of the Russian capital, “it isn’t profitable to struggle with corruption, criticize the supreme powers that be or be concerned about the development of the country” as a whole. Instead, they look after themselves and act in ways that almost always harm people beyond the ring road.

Tensions between Moscow and everyone else have always existed in the Russian Federation, but the passion behind Kiselev’s argument suggests that it may be intensifying. And that in turn means that many in what Muscovites and many foreigners dismiss as “the provinces” are likely to be especially resistant to amalgamation efforts.

Since 2000, “the centralization of power and the destruction of the institutions of federalism have led to a situation in which crudely speaking ‘all questions are decided in Moscow.’” Clearly, in the view of the supporters of the existing arrangements, “federalism is the basic threat to Moscow,” since its operation would require a re-division of resources.

Muscovites, Kiselev says, “should be grateful to the authoritarian Putin and his command. They should pray to the state corporations and entrepreneurs from the FSB” and they should “clearly recognize that their well-being is directly connected with the well-being of the regime, that is, with the well-being of the federal bureaucrats.”

Tensions between Moscow and everyone else have always existed in the Russian Federation, but the passion behind Kiselev’s argument suggests that it may be intensifying. And that in turn means that many in what Muscovites and many foreigners routinely dismiss as “the provinces” are likely to be especially resistant to the new amalgamation efforts. {jcomments on}


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Paul Goble

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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