Saturday, January 29, 2022

Putin Shifts Away from His Earlier Position on Amalgamation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 9 – Despite talk that Moscow will restart its stalled regional amalgamation effort after 2024, Vladimir Putin has taken two steps that suggest he is retreating from the position he advocated when he began to combine small non-Russian federal subjects with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions and krays.

            When he began the effort in his second term as president, Putin promised that the residents of the matryoshka regions, those non-Russian regions surrounded by Russian areas, would benefit from the combination, a promise that was the key to getting majorities in the referendum that led to the combination of some of them.

            What the Kremlin leader did not promise was that the former federal subjects would retain effective control of most aspects of life. Had he done so, there would have been little or no reason to pursue amalgamation. And as a result, governments in the new combined federal subjects absorbed almost all power.

            But in the last month, two things have happened that suggest Putin is pulling back from his earlier stance of permitting the new federal subjects to centralize power at the expense of those non-Russian areas they had absorbed. On the one hand, his representatives made clear that he would not use the public power law to centralize rule in the combined republics.

            Many leaders in the amalgamated federal subjects had expected the Kremlin to do exactly the reverse, especially since the new law gives federal subject leaders new powers over subordinate governments just as it gives Moscow more power over them. But at least for now, that isn’t likely to happen (

            And on the other, at his meeting with the members of the Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, Putin said that he is again returning to the question of the special status of the autonomous oblasts he oversaw the liquidation of (Komi-Permyak, Dolgano-Nenets, and Evenk) (

            The Kremlin leader said that in order to protect the numerically small peoples of the North, it was essential to “increase” the powers their governments currently have in the new oblasts and krays to the level that he indicated he wanted originally. “This is a very important issue and bears a principled character.”

            But most officials in the combined oblasts and krays will see this as a retreat from his earlier position and from his centralizing impulses, and people in the now-liquidated national oblasts that they will be able to recover some of what they lost and people in other non-Russian federal subjects that resistance to the center on this issue can work.

            There are three caveats to that conclusion, however. First, it is entirely possible that Putin isn’t telling the truth. He often says things that remarkably quickly turn out to be at variance with his plans. Second, the Kremlin leader likes to play up his support for micro-nationalities whenever he is in fact targeting larger and more important ones.

            And third, it may reflect something else. In recent months, it appears that Moscow may be more interested in combining predominantly ethnic Russian regions either near the center or in the Far East and thus has put plans for the amalgamation of non-Russian regions with ethnic Russian ones on hold at least for a time.

            (For evidence of a possible turn by Moscow in this direction, see and


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