Staunton, January 14 – Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation plans up to now have always involved combining a smaller non-Russian region with a larger and predominantly ethnic Russian one, but Russian regions have always worried that Moscow will eliminate them by combining them with other Russian or even non-Russian regions.
In the last few days, a number of Telegram channels have suggested that Tomsk Oblast might be eliminated altogether with part of its territory transferred to Novosibirsk Oblast and the rest to the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District, reports that experts say are not true but part of a political struggle in Tomsk in advance of the elections (club-rf.ru/70/detail/4825).
Aleksandr Shatilov, who heads the sociology and political science department at Moscow’s Finance University, describes these reports as “absolutely fake.” He notes that plans to combine the Nenets Autonomous District and Arkhangelsk Oblast have been put off (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/11/some-in-arkhangelsk-by-hook-or-crook.html).
And he adds that there is no reason to divide up Tomsk Oblast which is doing relatively well. He suggests that the stories are being put about by opponents of the Tomsk government who want to destabilize things in advance of the Duma elections and thus have a better chance of gaining votes by suggesting the oblast is about to be sold out.
Aleksey Sherbinin, a political scientist at Tomsk University, agrees. There is no economic or social reason for dividing up Tomsk between the Khanty-Mansiysk AD and Novosibirsk Oblast and that doing so would lead to a deterioration of control over the entire region.
And Vladimir Leontyev, head of Tomsk’s Info-Sphere Consulting, argues that putting out such ideas is “a provocation” designed to undercut the authority of the Tomsk government. He says that the regional powers that be must be prepared for such things in 2021 and be ready to explain to the population why these notions are false.
In advance of every Russian election, Moscow commentators and some Russian officials have suggested that elections by their very nature will exacerbate ethnic tensions with opposition figures playing the ethnic card to win support. But the situation in Tomsk appears to be the first in which Telegram channel reports of amalgamation are seen as playing that role.
It is entirely possible that what has been happening in Tomsk in the last two weeks may not be the last, especially given the power of social media to spread potentially destabilizing rumors like this one.