By Paul Goble
Valentina Matvienko, Federation Council speaker, says that it is unacceptable that 70 federal subjects receive subsidies from Moscow while 10 provide two-thirds of the government’s income and is calling for a redrawing of borders so that the new larger and thus less numerous federal subjects will be able to meet their own responsibilities.
Matvienko’s plan is a major departure from the regional amalgamation project Vladimir Putin launched in his first term. That simply folded in six smaller non-Russian administrative districts into the surrounding and predominantly ethnic Russian subjects, reducing the number of federal subjects from 89 to 83.
While many non-Russians were unhappy with Putin’s program either because they were directly affected or feared they would be in the future, that program did not carry with it the potential to destabilize the entire country. Matvienko’s plan is likely to have exactly that outcome.
There are three reasons for that harsh conclusion:
- First, her plan would mean that the remaining subjects would be, as she says she intends, more vital and capable of performing their tasks, something that would allow them to challenge Moscow in ways that dependent regions can’t.
- Second, it would deprive many political figures of their position and, given the centrality of administrative-territorial divisions in Russian political life, many existing regions of their access to such things as federal airports.
- And third, it would quite possibly dramatically reduce the number of federal subjects, and experience shows that countries with smaller number of federal units are more likely to disintegrate than those with a larger number.
These problems and others as well are likely to become apparent and may mean that Matvienko’s plan – and calling it a plan given her lack of specifics may be too much – is likely to be stillborn – except for one possibility: Putin might use it to restart his own amalgamation campaign.
Speaking on Moscow’s NTV, Matvienko observed that “there are subjects of the federation which are precisely not independently vital for objective reasons and not because there have bad governors.” And she suggested these subjects should be joined together with others which have better “economic, investment and other bases” (tass.ru/politika/3234863).
That would allow the new larger regions to “raise the quality of life of people” in ways that the existing impoverished regions cannot, the Federation Council speaker said.
According to Matvienko, now is the time to carry out such reforms because “the political and social situation in the country is stable.” How long it would remain so even in her terms remains to be seen especially if she or others begin to try to give this idea real content and specify as she did not what federal subjects will survive and what ones will not.