Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Moving Buryatia, Transbaikal Kray from Siberian to Far Eastern FD Creates Winners and Losers

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 5 – Yesterday, Vladimir Putin signed a decree shifting the Buryat Republic and the Transbaikal Kray from the Siberian Federal District to the Far Eastern FD, a superficially small administrative change that in fact is creating whole new classes of winners and losers in the Russian Federation east of the Urals.

            The decree (publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201811040002) appears to have been in the works for several months and may have been part of Putin’s appointment of Aleksandr Osipov as governor of the Transbaikal in October. In any case, he greeted the decision (stoletie.ru/lenta/zabajkalje_i_buratija_voshli_v_sostav_dalnevostochnogo_okruga_745.htm).

            He suggested that “now the kray will receive more subsidies for air travel” and also more investments for new jobs, a view Buryatia head Aleksey Tsydenov shared. The latter added that it will also mean that those families who have a third child will now get government aid, something that has not been true in the Siberian FD.

            Duma officials also welcomed the move for similar reasons, but at least one deputy, Nikolay Nikolayev, who heads the natural resources committee, worried the change might harm efforts to save Lake Baikal, a view echoed by Russian environmental activists (sibreal.org/a/29583419.html).

            The Russian expert community and commentariat also saw the move creating new winners and losers. Among the losers will be the Siberian FD which will now have less power and get even less attention, even as the Far Eastern FD gets more of both, given Putin’s commitment to the development of the latter region.

            Some in Moscow, including Sergey Rayevsky of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, suggested that the move in fact was all about strengthening Russia’s position on the Pacific Rim; but Sergey Markov, a political analyst, disagreed, saying it was all about “logistics” and Moscow’s own interests in that regard (kp.ru/daily/26903/3948878/).

                Commentators in Irkutsk, on the other hand, are very upset by the move, seeing it as undermining their efforts to promote a greater Baikal region, on the assumption that they will get less money and less support for the development of Irkutsk as a regional center for Siberia as a whole (babr24.com/bur/?IDE=182654).

            One of their number, Andrey Svetlov, argued that the transfer of the two federal subjects will make things “still worse” for Siberia; and another, Leonid Fedorov, said it was “the funeral of ‘the Baikal region’” and a political defeat for officials there who will become less important than they were (babr24.com/irk/?IDE=182670).

                But more generally, Putin’s action suggests that the Kremlin leader has no intention of doing away with the federal districts anytime soon. He may shift some subjects from one to another but won’t touch that basic arrangement. And it shows he is quite prepared to change this kind of border and so may be ready to change other borders regional and republic as well.

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