Staunton, November 9 – When Vladimir Putin included a new category of administrative division of the country, “federal territories,” in his constitutional amendments, many feared that he would use it to undermine or even replace regions and republics with direct rule from Moscow (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/07/amendment-allowing-for-federal.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/07/federal-territories-amendment-threatens.html).
That may still be the Kremlin leader’s ultimate intention, but now the first federal territory has been created; and it appears to be both less and more than what some analysts had assumed, less because it doesn’t yet involve entire federal subjects and more because it continues to undermine the federal system by carving out niches for the Kremlin and its friends.
According to draft legislation introduced by the government today, the first “federal territory” will be the portion of Sochi where the 2014 Olympiad was held. To be called Sirius, this entity will be run by a council consisting of both Moscow appointments and local elections (kommersant.ru/doc/4564804 and regnum.ru/news/polit/3110200.html).
The new entity, which currently has a population of 12,500, includes many of the Olympic sites that local and regional officials are having a hard time maintaining and is clearly intended to ensure that they survive as a monument to one of Putin’s greatest public “achievements” and become a tourist destination.
Some of those involved in this project say they hope the Sirius will also become a technology and innovation center and show what can be done if portions of existing territories are given the attention and financing that direct rule from Moscow can provide, although whether that will prove possible remains to be seen.
In reporting this, Dmitry Burtin of Kommersant observes that it is clear that what Moscow plans to do with Sirius does not necessarily indicate what it will do if it moves to establish other federal territories. The concept is so elastic, he suggests, that it can be modified to promote “an unlimited number of goals.”
That is exactly what many outside of the Russian capital are worried about, however small the Sirius step appears to be. Indeed, some analysts have warned that the creation of even a small federal territory like this one will destabilize not only the North Caucasus but Russia as a whole (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/07/creation-of-even-small-federal.html).