Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kremlin Risks Making Things Still Worse by Restarting Regional Amalgamation Plans, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Aleksey Shaburov, the editor of the Politsovet portal, says that the Kremlin plans to redraw the borders of the regions and republics of Russia after 2018 but argues that if it does so without changing the political system as a whole, that process risks making the country’s economic and even political situation much worse.

            Shaburov, who says that he favors the redrawing of many of the existing borders within the country because doing so is “that rare case when the authorities are moving in the right direction, but there is a great risk that they as is their custom will end by doing the wrong thing” (

            The regional division of the country clearly needs updating, he argues. “The Russian Federation inherited an administrative-territorial division from Soviet times and did not rethink or replace it.” Much of that system was the product of official “arbitrariness” and cannot be justified now.

            “In the planned Soviet system,” Shaburov says, the division into republics and regions “could exist, but in the current federal one, when each region has its own taxes and budgets, the economic harm of this system is becoming ever more obvious.” 

            The regions and republics need to be combined, he continues, but “everyone understands” that poor regions will not become rich unless their borders are changed. And people also understand that while the regions are formally equal, they are in fact anything but – and this situation is further exacerbated by the existence of republics.

            “If from a legal point of view, Sverdlovsk oblast is in no way different from let us say Chechnya, then from the point of view of the functioning of political institutions, there is between them an enormous gap, one that is in no way reflected in the legal acts” of the Russian Federation.

            But making any changes in borders or status will be difficult, Shaburov says, because this requires “a serious, broad and general” discussion of all interested parties. But “alas, in contemporary Russian politics, there are no mechanisms for such a discussion” and so it is unlikely to take place.

            Instead, the Kremlin will make the decision and impose it on the country, and any public discussion will be only “an imitation” of something real.  That probably doesn’t matter for many issues, but it clearly does matter and matters profoundly for any change in borders or the status of regions and republics.

            The greatest obstacle to a serious discussion of these things is that “the theme of interethnic and inter-regional relations in the Russian Federation are subject to a multiplicity of taboos.”  Federal law in fact “prohibits the discussion of the territorial composition of the state and de facto bans criticism and casting doubt on certain aspects of ethnic policy.”

            Under those conditions, regional leaders and most others concerned with this issue will be afraid to say anything, and that means that “in the discussion of the amalgamation of regions, the leading role inevitably will remain with the federal center which has its own interests which do not correspond with the interests of the regions.”

            That entails “several risks,” the Moscow commentator says. He lists four:

·         First, “there is the risk that the model of enlarging regions will simply be imposed by order, and this will be even worse than if nothing were changed.”

·         Second, “the new model if it appears could lead to the further political centralization” of the state with more unitarism and less federalism.

·         Third, “there is the risk that from the economic point of view, the regions as a result of amalgamation will lose more than they gain,” especially if tax and budgetary arrangements remain as they are now, arrangements than benefit Moscow but not the regions.

·         And fourth, “there is a great chance” that Moscow could seriously destabilize the country if it decides to do away with the national republics without consulting with their populations.

In short, Shaburov argues, “the reform of regional arrangements cannot occur separately from reforms of the remaining parts of the political system” because “if it is carried out within the framework of the current political configuration, there is every chance that things will only become worse.”

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