By Paul Goble
That the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation are opposed to amalgamating federal subjects is no news: most of them have viewed this as a threat to their sovereignty, power and control ever since Vladimir Putin began pursuing the folding in of smaller non-Russian regions with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian ones in 2002.
But far from all of the predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts of the country favor the idea. And in the wake of Valentina Matvienko’s reopening the subject earlier this week, officials in some of them have spoken out against the idea, opposition surveyed by Sergey Yezhov in “Novyye izvestiya” (newizv.ru/politics/2016-04-28/238834-matvienko-slivaet-regiony.html).
One reason Russian governors have been forced to take a position is that the most detailed proposal for regional amalgamation this week called for uniting Russian oblasts rather than non-Russian republics. Thus, Senator Sergey Kalashnikov urged uniting Lipetsk, Voronezh and Ryazan oblasts into one new federal subject and Smolensk, Bryansk, Kaluga and Oryol into another.
Because of Matvienko’s position, many governors of Russian regions have come out in support of amalgamation, but others have not, Yezhov says, although even the most positive were cautious and the most negative were cast in extremely restrained and even polite language given their dependence on the Kremlin.
Vologda Governor Oleg Kuvshinnikov favors combining regions subsidized by the center, the journalist reports, while Ivanovo Governor Pavel Konkov says that the basis for deciding which to be combined is population: those with fewer people ought to be joined together.
But Kaluga First Deputy Governor Aleksey Laptyev says that amalgamating regions will in fact entail real costs and will “not guarantee an improvement in the quality of life of people.” Lipetsk Governor Oleg Korolyev agrees, adding that those who talk loosely about combining regions need to know some history which shows that such actions “don’t have good outcomes.”
Oryol Governor Vadim Potomsky says he is willing to have his oblast absorb Bryansk oblast but is opposed to “other variants,” which presumably might cost him his job. And Khabarovsk kray head Vyacheslav Shport says that he is “not against” having his subject united with the Jewish AO and the Amur oblast.
Regional deputies and commentators were less restrained in their comments and their criticism of the amalgamation idea. Mikhail Yemelyanov, a deputy of Rostov’s duma, points out that the idea is “not new” and, the kiss of death in Russia today, has come to Russia “from abroad” rather than having domestic roots.
The Just Russia party member adds that amalgamation, like every other reform in Russia will “always end not with the reduction but with the increase in the number of bureaucrats and sending on the apparatus.”
And Valery Khomyakov, director of the Moscow Council on National Strategy, says that the entire discussion is for naught given that it is not likely to gain the backing of the Kremlin. He said Matvienko should try to unite St. Petersburg and Leningrad oblast before proposing anything broader. She tried that earlier and failed.
In Khomyakov’s opinion, “the fusion of subjects will provoke the opposition of local elites and thus reduce the general quality of administration of [Russia’s] territories.” Others, Yezhov say, are even prepared to suggest that the plan will threaten political stability of the country as a whole and even its territorial integrity.