Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Moscow’s Past Amalgamation Plans have Run into Trouble and Haven’t Worked as Advertised

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 26 – Now that the Kremlin has restarted Vladimir Putin’s effort to merge smaller non-Russian districts and republics with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions and krays, it is worth remembering that opposition in fact stopped some amalgamation plans and that the mergers in no case worked out as Moscow promised.

            During the last round of amalgamation in 2007 – the first was in 2005 -- the Kremlin announced plans to fuse three pairs of federal subjects: the Chita Oblast and the Agin Buryat Autonomous District, Krasnodar Kray and the Adygey Republic, and the Altay Oblast and the Mountainous Altay Republic (экономического-эффекта-объединения/).

            It achieved only the first. International complaints by the Circassian (Adyg) nation in advance of the Sochi Olympiad blocked the second, and officials on the ground did in the third. Now Moscow is trying again with Adygeya and Krasnodar Kray. But it is just as important to note that where the merger happened, the non-Russian region suffered.

            Over the repeated objections of Agin Buryat officials, Moscow pushed through the referendum approving the merger.  It promised enormous investments in the new Transbaikal Kray and said these would boost the living standards of the peoples in the two former federal subjects that had been merged.

            Some money did come to the kray, but little of it worked its way from the Russian kray capital to the former Buryat district. Worse, because the Agin Buryats protested this deception, the kray authorities followed the Russian capital and imposed draconian controls over the media and protests.

            Even Moscow officials were forced to acknowledge after the fact that the merger had been a failure, and in April 2010, the Moscow Institute for Contemporary Development, which had close ties to Dmitry Medvedev, urged the Kremlin to drop any plans for further amalgamations because their costs were greater than their benefits.
            In the decade since this first amalgamation was rammed through, conditions in what had been the Agin Buryat district deteriorated to the point that “more than half of the working age population left,” voting with their feet in an entirely justified way after voting for the referendum on the basis of empty Moscow promises.

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