Sunday, July 26, 2015

Center-Periphery Politics, Not Budget Shortfalls behind Demise of Moscow’s Crimea Ministry

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 26 – Given Moscow’s budgetary difficulties, funds were not flowing to Crimea via the Russian Ministry for Crimean Affairs at anything like the volume officials on the occupied Ukrainian peninsula expected, but the real reason the ministry was disbanded was that Sergey Aksenov, the head of the Crimean council of ministers, wanted greater freedom of action.

            Citing a source within the former ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity, “Novaya gazeta” reports that no one expected the amount of money to flow through the ministry that Moscow had promised and when it didn’t, Aksenov saw the ministry as more an obstacle than a benefit and worked to have the ministry scrapped (

            But now that Aksenov has won his bureaucratic victory, the source says, it may prove Pyrrhic. On the one hand, Moscow has imposed Moscow deputies on all key institutions in Crimea. And on the other, the funds that might go to the peninsula will be handled by ministries which have many other concerns and may be even less interested in supporting Crimea.

            The Ministry for Crimean Affairs was created on March 31, 2014, with a planned staff of 230. In fact, at the time of its demise this month, there were only 150 people there.   The ministry was charged with integrating Crimea into the Russian Federation and with developing its infrastructure.

            It was slated to supervise the investment of 681 billion rubles (13 billion US dollars) in the period to 2020, a figure that was boosted to 708 billion rubles (14 billion US dollars) in June just before the ministry was scrapped.  The Kerch bridge was supposed to be part of its responsibilities, and that would have required much more.

But no one expected that Moscow would find that much money for Crimea and actually spend it even if money were not as tight as it is now, according to Natalya Zubarevich, a regional specialist at the Moscow Independent Institute of Social Policy.

The anonymous source for the “Novaya gazeta” article said that Aksenov and others had been fighting to close down the ministry since its beginning and that no one should think that budgetary constraints were responsible for Moscow’s decision. “The local elite,” he says, “simply wanted greater authority” and autonomy.

“The leadership of the region was not very positively disposed to us,” the source said. “When there are a lot of leaders assembled in one small plot of land, conflicts are inevitable. It seems to me,” he added, that “the authorities of Crimea did not understand why the ministry was needed and this was expressed in their attempts to ignore our activity.”

In the 16 months of its existence, the ministry did not do much beyond getting involved in planning, and now that it has been disbanded, even that activity will disappear: After Vladimir Putin disbanded the ministry, the ministry’s webpage dropped all reference to its activities and put up only Putin’s decree.

Zubarevich told the paper that the rise and fall of the Crimean ministry reflected “the habit of bureaucrats to resolve problems exclusively by means of creating new structures” rather than a thoughtful response to what might be done. And consequently, tasks are shifted, control of funds is shifted, but much less happens than either supporters or opponents believe.

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