By Paul Goble
When Vladimir Putin began his regional amalgamation campaign 15 years ago, he suggested that he wanted to see wealthier Russian regions combined with poorer non-Russian ones. But his effort to do so ran into a chainsaw of opposition from officials and populations in both, and the program was dropped almost a decade ago.
Now, according to Vasily Shevchenko, a journalist for the Accents portal, insiders say that the Kremlin is planning to restart its amalgamation campaign but with one important change: now, Moscow will seek to combine neighboring Russian regions with each other rather than with non-Russian republics (akcent.site/eksklyuziv/23393).
The non-Russian oblasts, especially in the central portions of the country, are poor and have weak governors. Consequently, they are unlikely to object the way non-Russian republics have and so the center calculates that it will be able to push through the amalgamation of a large number of them without protests such as earlier attempts provoked.
That calculation may make sense. Such oblasts are indeed less likely to object to anything the center orders. But this program may backfire in an unexpected way. By creating larger and potentially richer regions, the Kremlin may be laying the foundation for new regionalist challenges to itself.
After all, one of the center’s priorities in the 1990s was to destroy institutions like the Siberian agreement and the Urals republic out of fear that such structures were sufficiently large and powerful to threaten the center. Now, however, Moscow appears set to create precisely the same kind of challenges that it earlier sought to eliminate.