Staunton, May 23 – Thirty-five of the 45 members of the working group that recommended the amalgamation of Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets Autonomous District in fact opposed the idea and either resigned or were excluded by a closed “loyalist” group that was prepared to do what the center ordered.
That pocket group voted as required, but this ham-handed approach has further outraged people in the Nenets AD and elsewhere who see that even before any merger occurs, their views are being ignored and their elected deputies excluded from having a say. As a result, they will vote against the merger – and others may follow them in other referenda as well.
According to Kirill Frolov, an LDPR deputy who resigned, “when the powers saw that the members were inclined negatively to this idea,” they chose to form a loyalist clique and simply didn’t inform the others of meetings so that they could push through the call for a merger (znak.com/2020-05-23/v_nao_protestuyut_protiv_obedineniya_s_arhangelskoy_oblastyu).
But the opposition among deputies did not end there. The day after the announcement, the head of the Nenets AD Yury Bezdudny assembled those deputies from his federal subject who opposed the idea and tried to talk them around. Nine of the 11 present again said they were opposed to the idea of a merger.
And so Moscow sent in the heavy artillery: Andrey Turchak, the secretary of the United Russia leadership and Duma deputy speaker flew to Naryan-Mar to tell them what they had to do. They still refused to back down, but when he went back to Moscow, he posted on the party web page that they now were all in support of amalgamation.
The United Russia deputies are not the only ones in the Nenets AD opposed to the merger, and they too are speaking out despite all the pressure from above (znak.com/2020-05-22/vlast_stolknulas_s_neozhidannym_protestom_zhiteley_nao_oni_ne_hotyat_obedinyatsya_s_arhangelskoy_obl).
Local residents have already staged individual pickets, launched two online petition drives, and plan to send an open letter to Vladimir Putin demanding that “the Kremlin leave them in peace.” Some local people say that there may soon be large-scale unsanctioned protests despite the pandemic restrictions now in place.
Republic political analyst Yekaterina Kurbangaleyeva says Moscow has miscalculated. It clearly thought it could push the merger through without problems, especially because the decline in the price of oil had hit Nenets hard and therefore in the Kremlin’s view would have left them with no choice but to support a merger. That simply isn’t true.
And a major reason for the level of anger is that people in the Nenets AD still remember when the current governor in Arkhangelsk was in charge of them. There is no love lost and some may vote against him out of personal animus or because they have no desire to live under his rule again. Moscow should have known this but apparently ignored it, the analyst continues.
Moscow analyst Konstantin Kalachev argues that “protests in the Nenets AD are creating a precedent. Everyone thought that we had revolutionary attitudes only in Moscow; but in fact, this turns out not to be true. In Moscow, deputies of the Moscow city council picket and no one cares.”
“But in the Nenets AD, we may have similar actions of protests even under conditions of the coronavirus.” That says something and may lead others to follow suit. At the very least, it may make it far harder for Moscow to push through the amalgamation it wants and extend it elsewhere in the country.
The émigré-based Free Idel-Ural Social Movement has picked up on this and issued a statement deploring “the new wave of repression” it sees being visited upon not only the Nenets AD but other republics as well. “Russians must turn away from the policy of the destruction of the indigenous peoples,” it says (idel-ural.org/archives/русские-должны-отмежеваться-от-полит/).
“In the current situation,” the movement says, “we call upon Russian opposition parties, movements and human rights groups to publicly condemn the persecution of activists of indigenous peopes and protest against attempts to liquidate national autonomies! Make clear your position! … You are either with the hangmen or with their victims.”
“Silence will be viewed as a display of solidarity with the chauvinist policy of the Kremlin. Show that you do not intend to come to terms with the criminal actions of the regime against its own citizens, independent of their nationality and political convictions,” the Free Idel-Ural declaration says.
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