Friday, February 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Are Russia’s Non-Russian Republics Now Safe from Amalgamation?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 15 – Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s Federation Council, says that it is time to restart the amalgamation of the country’s federal subjects because there are too many of them. But like President Vladimir Putin in December, she suggested that nothing will happen overnight and that the largest non-Russian republics may not be affected.

            Speaking in Kazan on Wednesday, Matviyenko said that the current number of federal subjects – 83 – is “too large” and that the differences in economic and social terms among them are too great. Consequently, some of them should be combined together by referendum, although she refused to say which ones (

            “Kommersant,” in reporting the speaker’s remarks yesterday, queried Valery Tishkov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and one of the co-authors of the country’s new nationality strategy document about where amalgamation is likely to take place and, more important, where it is unlikely to.

            He said that it would be useful to “unite small oblasts which today are in a poor condition,” and he gave as examples Lipetsk, Penza and Ivanova oblasts, and the Jewish Oblast and Chukotka district, both of which should be “returned to those regions” in which they were in Soviet times.

                But Tishkov said, in the words of “Kommersant,” that “the national republics have nothing to fear.” They have the ability to “mobilize local peoples,” and thus talking about amalgamation should take place “not in Kazan” where Matviyenko did “because Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia and Mordvinia are one of the most dynamically developing regions.”

            As it often does on controversial issues, surveyed four parliamentarians about their feelings on this issue. Their comments, which that news agency reported yesterday, shed some additional light on this issue and on how difficult it is likely to be to amalgamate more regions if referenda are required (

            Maksim Rokhmistov, the LDPR deputy who is first deputy chairman of the Duma’s committee on the budget and taxes, said he was pleased by Matviyenko’s words and believes that regions with fewer than three million residents should be combined with others in order to cut administrative costs and burdens on the taxpayer. 

            He added that he was also “convinced that issues about the unification of this or that region cannot be resolved on the basis of referenda.” Plans for an enlarged regions should be drawn up by experts and then the federal parliament should approve them “in each specific case.”

            Nikolay Kharitonov, a KPRF deputy who chairs the Duma committee on regional policy and the problems of the North and Far East, said that “at the present time [he] does not see any need for amalgamation of regions.  Today this clearly is not the main issue for the country” and changing the number of regions “will hardly make conditions in them radically different.”

            Mikhail Nikolayev, a United Russia member of Kharitonov’s committee, said that the fact that ten subjects produce more than 50 percent of Russia’s GDP while another ten produce “only one percent” is why the country needs to begin talking about amalgamation again. But he said he agreed with Matviyenko that this could be done only on the basis of referenda.

            But he added that he favored proceeding very cautiously not only because of the current problems in the economy but also because “first of all there is a need to analyze the experience of theose Russian regions which at one time have already passed through amalgamation.” It must be determined whether they have benefited or not.

            (Nikolayev doesn’t say so, but complaints from the small non-Russian districts which were subjected to amalgamation during Putin’s earlier presidency suggest that amalgamation has not benefited them in the ways they were promised and in many cases has made their situation even worse than it was.)

            Finally, Bato-Zhargal Zhambalnimbuyev, a member of the Federation Councils’ committee on budget and financial markets, said he agreed that a new wave of amalgamation would be a good thing but added that “the main thing is not the number of federal subjects” but rather “arranging things that the remaining subjects will get a boost for stable growth so that they will become more self-sufficient.”

            The country must “seek to create a situation in which all regions will be developing more or less in the same way” so that people will be able to get what they need at home rather than by moving to Moscow.  That will reduce migration. After all, “why go to some capital city, if you can eat the same thing in your village?!”

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