Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Arkhangelsk-Nenets Merger May Lead Moscow to Seek More Amalgamations but Its Success is Far from Guaranteed, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – Now that Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets Autonomous Oblast are set to have a referendum to unite into one federal subject many Russian commentators are coming forward to promote the unification of other pairs (kp.ru/daily/27131.5/4218634/ and tnv.ru/news/tatarstan/101431-zhurnalist-oleg-kashin-nazval-tatarstan-nezavisimoy-albaniey).

            Aleksey Mukhin, head of the Moscow Center for Political Information, argues that if the Arkhangelsk-Nenets merger works, Moscow will push for combining another eight to ten federal subjects, although he says that there will be obstacles and opposition to any combination. That makes the restart of this Putin program problematic (ura.news/articles/1036280237).

            Tatyana Zhatkina of the URA news agency cites Mukhin’s words as part of her survey of experts and politicians in two regions that many have long believed are strong candidates for amalgamation, Khabarovsk Oblast and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, whose joining together would allow Moscow to easily oust Khabarovsk Governor Sergey Furgal.

            (Furgal, a member of the LDPR, defeated a United Russia candidate last year, infuriating Moscow which in response shifted the capital of the Far Eastern Federal District from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok. Because the Jewish AO has elections scheduled for September, many viewed a merger before that time as a way for the Kremlin to get rid of Furgal.)

            But what is striking is that among the experts and politicians in both federal subjects Zhatkina spoke with, not one thought a merger was possible anytime soon. No one is talking about it, no preparations are in place, and holding a referendum in advance of the September elections would be extremely difficult and possibly dangerous.

            Any amalgamation needs to be carefully planned before it can work. Otherwise, these experts and politicians say, the situation after unification may be even worse than the one before it, politically and economically. If Moscow wants Furgal out, they suggest, it will find it far easier to open a criminal case against him, trumped up or not.

            Each potential merger is different, of course; but the reaction of commentators in these two places which many had thought would be about the easiest combination to push through strongly suggests that the assumption that Putin can easily restart and win through an amalgamation campaign may be counting his chickens before they have hatched.

            And there is an even more immediate possibility: if residents in Arkhangelsk and the Nenets AO learn about such opposition, those in each of these two federal subjects who don’t want a combination may be inspired to resist the Kremlin’s desires, thus killing off any restart of the campaign before it can even take off.

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