Staunton, November 23 – Most smaller cities in Russia are locked into the regions or republics of which they are a part but the transportation networks that exist, networks that link them to the capital of the federal subject and thus make any talk of shifting them from one subject to another almost unthinkable.
But there are exceptions, and one of those has now surfaced again in the Urals. Chaykovsky, a city that was established only in 1955 to support the development of a hydro-electric dam to support the development of Votkinsk’s defense firms and named for the Russian composer, wants to leave Perm Kray and become part of the Udmurt Republic.
On social networks and in the local media, Chaykovsky residents are calling for this change, arguing that with it “many issues would be more easily and quickly solved” because the authorities in Udmurtia are more focused on ordinary people than are those in Perm Kray who care first and foremost about big business (ura.news/news/1052459837).
They also believe the frequent turnover in governors in Perm has left it less capable of dealing with problems, and they recall that in Soviet times, “Perm offered the Chaykovsky district to Udmurtia, but the latter refused to take it.” So far, the authorities in the two federal subject capitals have remained silent on this issue.
The possibility has three sources. First, older residents in both places recall that borders among republics and regions were often changed in Soviet times when that served Moscow’s interests or, more rarely, when regional leaders wanted it. (On that, see the current author’s “Can Republic Borders Be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990.)
Union republic borders were changed nearly 200 times during the Soviet period, and borders among their constituent regions or autonomous republics were shifted, often by very small amounts, far more often than that, as priorities and populations shifted and economic considerations changed.
Second, Vladimir Putin’s call 15 years ago for the amalgamation of smaller non-Russian republics and districts with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions led many in both Perm Kray and Udmurtia to consider how that might work to their respective advantage and to offer plans for redrawing the border.
In April 2012, some Perm leaders picked up on Putin’s call and urged that Kirov Oblast and the Udmurt Republic be amalgamated with Perm Kray into the political counterpart of the oft-discussed Volga-Kama economic macro-region. But growing resistance to such combinations elsewhere appeared to have killed off that possibility.
And third, there is the objective reality that Chaykovsky is on the border of the two subjects and far more integrated already in terms of transportation and communication with Udmurtia than with Perm. Its people are far more likely to go to Votkinsk than to Perm, and now, at least some of them would like to take their city and its land with them.
Moscow is unlikely to welcome their proposals for two reasons. On the one hand, it would strengthen a non-Russian republic rather than undermine it; and on the other, these proposals are coming from below and thus the kind of activism that the Kremlin fears even if it might appear to be proceeding in parallel with its own.
Chaykovsky is hardly the only such place in the Russian Federation; and it is likely that residents in others feel the same way, convinced that transportation and communications links are more important to their futures than the current lines on the map.
Perhaps the most important consequences of this are two. On the one hand, the likelihood that such demands will surface is yet another reason for Moscow to go slow in any imposed from above border changes. And on the other, those cities where such demands are made may become new hotspots of dissent with people making demands not only about border but much more.