Monday, November 19, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Putin Said Preparing to Restart Regional Amalgamation Effort

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 19 – President Vladimir Putin who during his first two terms reduced the number of federal subjects from 89 to 83 by amalgamating numerically small non-Russian regions with larger Russian ones is currently preparing to restart this process and end the ethno-territorial divisions of the country, according to a Moscow journalist.

Dmitry Terekhov, co-chair of the Journalists of Russia organization, says Putin suspended the effort because of the economic crisis and the elections but now wants to press ahead because like Terekhov, Putin is convinced that ethno-territorial units represent “a constant and most serious threat” to the territorial integrity of Russia (

After surveying the ways in which Terekhov says outside powers have exploited ethnic territories first within the Soviet Union and no within Russia and the steps Putin took before 2008, the Moscow journalist outlines what he says was a plan drawn up at that time for the complete transformation of the country.

            According to Terekhov, Moscow before 2008 had developed a project that would involve more than the 0.3 percent of the population that the first wave of amalgamation did.  Specificially, he writes, the plan called for the following steps:

-combining the Nenets Autonomous District with Arkhangelsk oblast to form a Pomor Kray;

-amalgamating Magadan oblast, the Chukchi Autonomous District and Sakha, Udmurtia with Perm and “possibly” Kirov obast;

-joining together Udmurtiya and Kirov oblast with the Perm Kray;

-folding the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous districts into a Tyurmen or West Siberian kray;

            -combining Vologda oblast and the Komi Republic;

            -amalgamating Bashkortostan with Orenburg oblast;

            -grouping together Nizhne Novgorod oblast with Mordvinia;

            -combining Irkutsk kray and Buryatia;

            -amalgamating the Altay Kray and the Altay Republic; and

            -in the “explosive” North Caucasus, uniting the Adygey Republic with Krasnodar Kray or combining Adygeya with Stavropol kray.

            At the same time, Terekhov said, Moscow moved to create what is effectively a governor generalship in the North Caucasus by appointing Aleksandr Khloponin to head a new federal district while allowing him to keep his post a vice prime minister, an arrangement that recalls “the times of the Russian Empire.”

            If the Kremlin proceeded cautiously in the past, carefully “sounding out” each step, Terekhov continues, now, in Putin’s third term, the regime is prepared to talk about more radical steps.  Two United Russian functionaries, Sergey Markov and Andrey Metelsky, for example, have talked about “the complete liquidation of the national republics in the North Caucasus and the formation in their place of a North Caucasus Kray.”

            Two things are important about their remarks, Terekhov says.  On the one hand, they were delivered on central television and not in some “analytic publications.”  And on the other, “in public no one (!) of the North Caucasus leaders said a word against this super-radical declaration,” a reflection of their new docility toward Moscow.

            All this shows, the journalist continues, that “the line for the complete liquidatioin of the national territorial division of Russia left to [the present] as an inheritance from the Bolsheviks,” and that in his view, “ten years from now there will not remain any mark of the existence of the form autonomis which at any time could threaten” secession.

            What Putin is proposing to do is “simply gigantic” and can, Terekhov insists, “be called without exaggeration a revolution, although it is being carried out quietly and without excessive noise” now that “the elections are behind and ahead are six years of relatively peaceful and stable political development” lie ahead.

            As this process unfolds, the journalist says, new ideas are likely to surface. One just has, with a Daghestani scholar suggesting that the non-Russian republics be renamed according to a territorial rather than ethnic basis.  That would be extremely easy to do, Terekhov says, but he adds that he and most of those with whom he has spoken still favor amalgamation.

            (What he does not say but what may be critical is this: this latest idea from Daghestan may be intended to confront the leaders of the non-Russian republics with a Hobson’s choice: Either see your republics renamed according to the territorial principle, or face absorption by a larger and predominantly ethnic Russian neighbor.)

            At the present time, Terekhov says, there is “a serious position war” going on about all this, a struggle that will likely intensify as Moscow “liquidates the national territorial division of Russia and converts it first into a classical federalism and then possibly into a unitary state as many generations of patriots of Russia have dreamed” since 1917.

            As this battle continues, there will be occasional “retreats,” Terekhov concluded, “but the general direction forward is beyond doubt  And as in all questions, the powers that be [in Moscow] need aboe all the active and even passive support of the Russians, the main state-forming people of the country.”

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