Saturday, May 16, 2020

Amalgamation of Arkhangelsk Oblast and Nenets Autonomous District Helps Putin but May Spark New Protests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – Yesterday, the governors of the depressed Arkhangelsk Oblast and the rich Nenets Autonomous District signed a memorandum calling for the amalgamation of the two into a single federal subject, the first but not the last step in that process, one that helps Vladimir Putin but seems certain to spark resistance and protests there and elsewhere.

            For the Kremlin leader, such an amalgamation will help the two subjects better weather the current economic crisis, it will create a large and potentially influential Russian subject in the Arctic that Moscow can present as part of  the fulfillment of Putin’s program there, and it would restart the regional amalgamation program that has been an on-again, off-again affair since 2006.

            But it is certain to face resistance locally given that Moscow has promised that amalgamations will improve conditions for everyone when in fact they have not, add to protests over Moscow’s plans for trash dumps there, and frighten people in other non-Russian republics and districts (

            According to Vedomosti, the two subjects will hold a referendum on amalgamation on September 13 ( That will be the first such amalgamation vote in 12 years. (For background, see

            This move, not unexpected (, is prompting three distinct sets of questions: First, is this a one-off move designed to solve the problems of these two regions and create a more powerful center in the North? Second, will it spark protests? And third, does it presage more amalgamations?

            Russian commentators already are to be found on both sides of all three questions -- see, and -- and more are certain to weigh in in the coming days, especially as the details of this amalgamation plan become more widely known.

            What may matter most is the way in which this move plays out elsewhere given that many non-Russian regions are fearful that they will be next if amalgamation starts again. Ingush activists have already come out against any combination plans for themselves  (

            But others, who have expressed concerns in the past, are likely to do the same in the coming days. (For a survey of some past resistance efforts by them and a discussion of how they may react if they feel threatened, see

            Consequently, even as Russia faces a pandemic and economic collapse, the Kremlin by pushing for a restart of the amalgamation campaign has created another set of problems for itself administratively and politically as well both in the North and around the Russian Federation as a whole.

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