Saturday, May 16, 2020

Could Amalgamation Involve Two Predominantly Ethnic Russian Regions?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – When Vladimir Putin began his campaign to amalgamate federal subjects in 2006, he was very clear that his intention was to combine smaller non-Russian entities with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays. And many assume that if that effort starts again with Arkhangelsk and Nenets, the same rule will apply.

            Namely, that the most probable victims of such a project will be non-Russian regions and republics who would be folded into and subordinated to predominantly ethnic Russian krays.  But some Russian analysts say that it is at least possible that the Kremlin may also move to combine wealthier Russian regions with poorer Russian ones as well.

            If that were to happen, it would create additional tensions because the leaders of the oblasts who would lose their position are certain to resist and might as a means of self-defense promote precisely the kind of ethnic Russian regionalism among their populations that Moscow so fears.

            Tatyana Zhatkina of the URA news agency says that “the unification of Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets Autonomous Oblast may be the start of a campaign to revise the borders of the regions of Russia” and not just those of non-Russian republics as in the past but of predominantly ethnic oblasts as well (

            She cites the conclusion of analyst Yevgeny Minchenko that “it would be easy to explain to the population of subsidized Kurgan Oblast the value of uniting with the wealthier Tyumen Oblast.” After all, the Kurgan governor who earlier served as deputy governor in Tyumen, has “publicly said that in his region there is nothing to steal.”

            But other analysts with whom Zhatkina spoke are less certain. Political technologist Dmitry Kovalyev argues that no one should expect such a combination because the only beneficiaries would be businesses and the officials of the current Kurgan Oblast would lose their positions.

            Aleksandr Bezevlov, a political scientist, agrees and says that an amalgamation of this type would not improve the situation in Kurgan but would certainly impose serious budgetary losses in Tyumen.  At the same time, the three dismiss the possibility that Tyumen might absorb the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Oblast or the Yamal.

            Minchenko for his part notes that in Yugra and the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Oblast there are “strong regional elites who would oppose unification. Moreover, “if a single powerful subject were created, this would be an economic monster with a large portion of Russian reserves,” whose head might amass too much political power for Moscow’s taste.

            It seems unlikely that these two Russian oblasts will be combined anytime soon, but the fact that this possibility has been mentioned is important. On the one hand, it may mean that Vladimir Putin has an even larger vision of the territorial reordering of the Russian Federation than many have thought.

            Or on the other, it may be a way of making the amalgamation of non-Russian regions with Russian ones more acceptable by giving officials in the Presidential Administration the chance to declare that what the Kremlin leader is doing applies only to non-Russian areas and that Russian ones will remain free and clear.

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