Monday, August 14, 2017

Could Rising Debt Loads Force Russian Regions to Amalgamate?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 14 – Rumors now circulating that the enormous debt load in the Komi Republic might force it to seek to combine with Yamal and the Nenets Autonomous District may be overstated, according to regional experts; but they could indicate a strategy Moscow may employ to overcome regional resistance and restart Putin’s amalgamation program.

            Such a conclusion seems not unreasonable given that the federal subjects are in most cases increasingly mired in debt as a result of the economic crisis, the unfunded liabilities Moscow has imposed as it shifts responsibilities for ever more things onto the regions, and significant cutbacks in federal transfer payments.

            But observers are probably correct that such a restart of Putin’s plan to reduce the number of federal subjects by folding in smaller non-Russian areas into larger and predominantly ethnic Russian-dominated ones won’t take off until after next year’s presidential election lest it spark the kind of controversies the Kremlin has clearly indicated it doesn’t want now.

            On today, journalist Vyacheslav Yegorov says “the latest wave of rumors about the integration of [petroleum-rich] Yamal with neighboring regions was unleashed on the Internet a few days ago” and this time involves supposed plans to unite Yamal to the Nenets Autonomous District and the Komi Republic (

            Not surprisingly, he continues, these rumors have become the focus of discussions about a possible “future ‘Tyumen matryoshka,’” a single Russian-dominated federal subject that would include one or more non-Russian units within it. Behind the rumors, Yegorov says, is the massive debt of the Komi Republic and the wealth available in Yamal.

            “Sources in the Yamal government say that such a fusion would certainly save the Komis but that it would very negatively affect the economic situation of Yamal itself,” given that Yamal would have to provide so much money to the impoverished Komi that it would become impoverished itself.

            But because amalgamation has support in Moscow, this new set of rumors is sparking even more rumors in other places. Now, the journalist says, there is talk that the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Oblast and the Yamal-Nenets AO may be split up with the Kirov oblast will be combined with Udmurtia and Mari El.

            Regional political analysts say, the journalist continues, that all such talk is connected with the upcoming gubernatorial elections, that Moscow won’t risk doing anything before next year at the earliest, and that the rumors reflect the desperation of some governors rather than a breakdown in the consensus that existing arrangements are tolerable.

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