Staunton, February 18 – The call to introduce a provision in the Russian Constitution allowing Moscow to replace existing federal subjects with districts under direct federal rule (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/02/russian-constitution-may-be-changed-to.html) could allow Vladimir Putin to restart his stalled effort to consolidate existing oblasts and republics.
After he moved at the start of his rule to reduce the number of federal subjects by combining smaller non-Russian ones with larger Russian areas, Putin had some initial success and did cut the number of federal subjects from 89 to 83; but since that time, he has faced increasing resistance; and the 2008 economic crisis appears to have killed off the idea (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2008/11/window-on-eurasia-economic-crisis.html).
Now, in the best “hybrid” tradition, the Kremlin leader may be about to restart that program by means of the creation of new districts under direct federal rule. Some regional leaders recognize what is at stake and have come out against the idea (asiarussia.ru/news/23304/), but there is one section of the country where such a program appears most likely.
That is in the Russian North where there are four non-Russian entities (Karelia, Komi, Sakha and Chukotka) as well as 26 numerically small non-Russian nationalities. From Putin’s perspective, these are ideal targets: they are small, the extra benefits some of them receive are unpopular, big Russian firms resent their resistance, and the campaign could be launched under the guise of projecting Russian power into the Arctic and defending the Northern Sea Route.
Those pushing for an amendment allowing for new districts under direct Moscow rule have not surprisingly pointed to the Far North as their first priority (kommersant.ru/doc/4244333, council.gov.ru/services/discussions/blogs/113261/ and thebarentsobserver.com/en/life-and-public/2020/02/authors-new-constitution-eye-special-place-arctic).
Many Russians would welcome such a move just as they welcomed earlier consolidation efforts; and if Putin succeeded in eliminating several or all of the non-Russian entities in the North and downgrading the status of the numerically small peoples there, that effort would not only gain him support from Russian nationalists but open the way to use this tactic elsewhere.
Thus, what looks on its surface to be a housekeeping amendment that would allow Moscow to control small areas around nuclear facilities or places at environmental risk could become a mechanism for the destruction of what remains of Russian federalism and of the rights of ethnic minorities across it.
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