Staunton, November 8 – Immediately after Vladimir Putin signed the decree shifting the Buryat Republic from the Siberian Federal District to the Far Eastern ones, Buryats launched a petition on Change.org to reverse that decision. The appeal is directed in the first instance not to Putin but to the Russian Constitutional Court.
The authors of the appeal say that Buryatia stands to lose many things if the shift stands, including having to pay higher energy costs and being at risk of seeing some of their territory transferred to the control of foreigners, a euphemistic way of saying, to the Chinese (baikal-daily.ru/news/15/340881/).
More than a thousand people have signed the petition so far and left comments like “This was like lightning from a clear sky! Why do they decide everything for us? When not unite all of Siberia into one district?” “There is not a single positive aspect in this unification,” and “I am for the preservation of Siberian waters, land and forests.”
The petition says it is clear why Moscow has taken this decision: It views the territory of the Far Eastern FD as “less valuable” than that of the Siberian one because the former does not contain oil, gas and other natural resources that can be exported for the center’s benefit. That means any objections by the population in the Far Eastern FD will be more easily ignored.
Now, unless Putin’s order is reversed, the Buryats say, they will be ignored by the central Russian government even more often than they have been before, putting the republic and its people at risk.
While it might be tempting to dismiss this petition as the work of a few cranks, that would be a mistake. One indication that it isn’t is that officials in Buryatia have launched a broad effort to sell Putin’s order, something they would likely not have felt compelled to do if the transfer was genuinely popular ( ).
But both the petition and this official effort provide evidence of something else: people in Russia’s regions and republics view the federal districts as important to their well-being. If they did not think the FDs mattered, they wouldn’t be fighting over which Moscow has made them a part of.