Staunton, May 23 – The Kremlin which very much wants to amalgamate Russia’s federal subjects but knows that such a move will face opposition is likely to move in that direction in 2022, after the upcoming Duma elections but two years before the 2024 presidential vote, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.
The Putin regime has a tradition of using such periods, shortly after one election but long before another, for taking “unpopular decisions,” and it is thus likely to do so in this case next year, the Russian economist and commentator tells Rustam Sabancheyev of the URA news agency (ura.news/articles/1036282346).
But he suggests that the next wave of regional amalgamation won’t affect the non-Russian republics whose residents would be the most likely to resist or Russian regions like Krasnoyarsk, Transbaikal or Kamchatka which are already so large as to be administratively problematic.
The one place where the Kremlin can move involves “purely Russian regions” in the central part of the country. Combining Ryazan and Kaluga wouldn’t present any real difficulties, Inozemtsev says; but “I do not see any need for that.” And combining them while leaving non-Russian republics untouched will create other problems, this time in Russian areas.
The economist says he doesn’t fully understand why Moscow wants to amalgamate territories or thinks it will have an easier time if it does. In fact, the existence of such territories if they are headed by people from them can be an important buffer against more serious threats if times get hard. They played that role in the 1990s, as some seem to have forgotten.
“We are trying to create the illusion that the country is united,” Inozemtsev says. “But this illusion is dangerous.” It was one that former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev and his associates had. He told me, the economist says, that in formulating policies, the leadership at his time “did not consider the country divided into national territories.”
Instead, Gorbachev said, “it was considered to be an ordinary European country with a single citizenship’ and that ‘the new historical community of people’ already existed. They took note of its absence in the USSR too late,” Inozemtsev continues.
Unfortunately, the Russian leadership now is “trying to give the impression that there is no nationality question in Russia. Throughout the world, ethnic movements and national identities are playing an ever-greater role, but with us, it is as if this is not the case and never was.”
“It seems to me that we must not close our eyes to the fact that in reality, an emirate has been created in Chechnya and that a multitude of ethnic Russians have left the North Caucasus republics, Tyva, and the Altai,” he says.
Russia in recent decades has not behaved as other federations have. There, central governments have addressed the demands of regions for more power and autonomy by giving them that rather than by changing their borders. In fact, Inozemtsev says, “I do not know of any precedents in other federations for increasing the size of the subjects.”
The commentator says he is against the trend of dispatching governors from Moscow. “There is not one federation in the world where the president can appoint governors. Regional policy is regional policy.” And despite what Moscow says, there are plenty of people in the regions quite capable and ready to assume leadership positions.
Sabancheyev asks Inozemtsev for his views on the possible annexation of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the Donbass and the absorption of Belarus. The first three are possible “if the Kremlin concludes that this will raise the popularity of the authorities and strengthen the power of the president.”
But Belarus is different, Inozemsev says. A society has taken shape there “which does not want to be either in Russia or in Europe. This society consists of millions of people who over the course of time have gotten used to their current status,” one that allows millions of them to have permanent Shengen visas and hundreds of thousands to work in Poland and the Baltic countries.”
“If you unite Belarus to Russia, an enormous number of people will lose their customary way of life” and an international scandal will arise, Inozemtsev says. Moreover, and possibly more important, “Russia will receive an enormous number of people who aren’t prepared to live as quietly as the Kremlin would like its subjects to.”