Thursday, April 28, 2016

Are Some of Russia’s Federal Subjects on the Road to Self-Liquidation?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – Valentina Matvienko has pulled back her suggestions about regional amalgamation in the face of widespread opposition (  and, but he possibility that Moscow will  restart Vladimir Putin’s effort to combine federal subjects to reduce their number continues to agitate many. 

            One of the most intriguing is offered by philologist and blogger Nikolay Podosokorsky who suggests that the Federation Council chairman’s words were a trial balloon and that Moscow likely will move to join together some of the smallest and weakest federal subjects in the near future (

            He argues that the Russian authorities “even before any crisis are seized by ‘a mania of combining’ (according to the precise expression of philosopher Aleksandr Rubtsov): the optimization of hospitals, schools, universities, libraries, museums, theaters and other institutions.”

            “At a higher (all-Russian level),” Podosorkorsky suggests, “this mania is expressed in the fusion of institutions at the federal level,” and “at the international level, in territorial expansion (South Osetia, Abkhazia, Crimea and the Donbas).” Indeed, “one could say that geopolitics in the heads of our leaders overwhelms everything else.”

            Russian leaders, he says, “are dissatisfied with any variety because where there is variety, there is always the danger of competition, differences of opinion, the display of initiative from below and the growth of centrifugal forces, and above all [the Russian] powers  fear this more than fire and therefore strive to unify and amalgamate everything.”

            “Undoubtedly,” the commentator continues, “now the idea of liquidating a number of subjects of the federation by joining them to others has economic causes.”  But combining the federal subjects will save less money than most imagine and may even end up costing the country even more.

            However, the impulse to unite is coming not just from above but is also being driven by demography: a large share of the regions of Russia are losing population. Indeed, 40 regions, according to Rosstat figures from earlier this year have lost significant shares of their population since Vladimir Putin first became president.

            Among the hardest  hit have been Tula, Novgorod, Arkhangelsk, Vladimir “and other oblasts of the Central and Northern portions of Russia plus several regions in the Urals, Siberia, and the Far East, Podosorkovsky says.  All of these would be candidates for amalgamation with their neighbors.

            According to the blogger, among those regions which have lost population to the point that they are likely to fall below 500,000 residents and which do not have strategic importance for other reasons are the very most likely candidates for amalgamation because they have no other importance for the center except economics and the draft.

            Podosorkovsky says that in his view, Moscow will continue the liquidation of autonomous districts with the exception of petroleum-rich Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets AOs and also will “unify a number of oblasts like Novgorod.  For the Kremlin,” he says, “this will mean a reduction in expenses; for residents, a further degradation of their territory.”

            What makes his argument so intriguing is that it points to the amalgamation of predominantly ethnic Russian regions rather than the combination of non-Russian and Russian ones. If he is right, then that would mean that the relative share of non-Russian republics in the federal system would increase as the number of Russian regions fell.

            That seems almost unthinkable given Putin’s values; but stranger things that this have happened – and it is worth noting that this idea is out there.

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