Monday, July 4, 2016

‘A Russia of the Big Cities’ – Moscow’s New Thinking about Regional Amalgamation Draws Fire

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 4 – To eliminate asymmetrical federalism in which the non-Russian republics have more powers at least on paper than predominantly ethnic Russian regions and to save money by consolidating various institutions, Vladimir Putin for more than a decade has pressed for the amalgamation of smaller non-Russian regions with larger Russian ones.

            But that effort, begun more than a decade ago, appears to have run out of steam in the face of opposition from the leaders of the larger non-Russian republics and concerns among many Russians that they will lose local schools and hospitals if their regions are combined with other federal subjects.

            Nonetheless, like many Kremlin ideas, plans to amalgamate republics and regions have not gone away, and in recent weeks, they have taken on a new form, one that reflects the rapid decline of the rural population and the rise of major urban agglomerations and that at least ostensibly does not create new classes of winners and losers among the nationalities.

            Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said last week that the Russian government has been “actively” discussing the development of a new administrative-territorial arrangement that would divide the country into regions centered on the very largest cities like his own (

            Such an approach, he and others who support it say, would allow the government to reduce spending by combining schools, hospitals, and other government facilities now divided among the existing federal subjects into a smaller number of such institutions in the smaller number of city-centric ones.

            And it would have the obvious advantage from the Kremlin’s point of view of eliminating the non-Russian republics and with them, asymmetrical federalism, via an indirect, “hybrid” way. But while that may be true, Sobyanin’s remarks about government plans already have sparked serious opposition.

            Vadim Soloyev, a KPRF Duma deputy, says that this amalgamation plan, much like its predecessors, will not only reduce the ability of the government to control the territory of the country but will force people to travel far greater distances to get medical, educational or other services.

            Consequently, the communist legislator says, he is “a categorical opponent of all such combining and amalgamating” because “in saving kopecks, we will be inflicting enormous harm on the social rights of citizens and creating a mass of new problems’ (

            Also speaking in opposition to a city-centered division of the country is Yaroslav Nilov, the deputy head of the LDPR fraction in the Duma.  He argues that if such a policy were to be adopted, questions would arise about the future of the villages and hence “who will feed the country?” (

            Nilov points out that one of the LDPR election slogans is “’back to the countryside.’”  Big cities like Moscow are already “impossible” to live in comfortably. Consequently, they should not be boosted to grow further but rather the government should shift plants and other institutions back to rural areas so as to hold the population there. 

            He insists that he and his part are not opposed to change especially changed based on territorial considerations rather than ethnic ones but that the latest Russian government thinking is clearly going in the wrong direction. 

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