Thursday, May 20, 2021

Economic Crisis Leads Moscow to Think about Regional Amalgamation But Makes Its Implementation Unlikely, Sultanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 17 – Because many federal subjects face bankruptcy as a result of the current economic crisis and Moscow’s imposition of unfunded mandates on them, some in Moscow have again been talking about regional amalgamation as a possible bureaucratic solution to the problem, Shamil Sultanov says.

            This is to be expected, the former Duma deputy and head of the Russia-Islamic World Center for Strategic Research says, because there are always people in Moscow who think that they can cure any problem by reorganizing the bureaucracy. But there are two reasons why little is likely to come of such talk (

            On the one hand, Sultanov argues, combining regions will do little or nothing to help the economy, although it might although Moscow to avoid having to take more regions under direct financial administration and even to hide at least for awhile just how deep an economic crisis the Russian Federation now faces.

            And on the other hand, he says, regional amalgamation is expensive. Moscow has to put up some money to buy off regional elites and conduct referenda; and this is money that at present, the central government doesn’t have. If it failed to spend money in this way as a kind of bribe, it would face massive and very public resistance, especially in non-Russian republics.

            The federal subjects are in trouble financially because of the crisis, Sultanov continues. Thirteen are officially bankrupt and under direct central financial administration. Another 37 are on the brink of being forced into this status, something Moscow officials may want to avoid but don’t see how.

            Moreover, from the perspective of the center, things are only going to get worse. Moscow understands that the foreign economic and political isolation of Russia is going to last for a long time, thus guaranteeing that the economic situation will deteriorate, especially as oil prices not only will not recover but are projected to fall still more.

            And so, in true Russian fashion, some officials are looking for “’a bureaucratic miracle’” that will solve all this, and they are proposing “a new administrative division of the Russian Federation,” even though that by itself will not solve the problem and by creating confusion and chaos actually make things worse.

            Moreover, any major changes in territorial arrangements “cannot be achieved for one extremely weighty reasons: Such reforms require careful agreement with regional elites who have their own patrons at the federal level and to achieve that is impossible because the federal center has no long-term ideology and strategy” or even the money to do things.

            “Reforms of the territorial-administrative structure in principle must not be conducted during periods of systemic crisis; they can be successfully carried out only under conditions of relative socio-economic and political stability when sufficient material resources are readily available.”

            Moscow was in that situation in the first years of Putin’s rule and carried out regional amalgamations. Now, it isn’t, and therefore almost certainly can’t. Indeed, its recent effort to push for the combination of Arkhangelsk and Komi backfired, and the authorities at the center had to retreat.

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