Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Local Resistance Spreads and Intensifies to Moscow’s Amalgamation Plans in Yamalo-Nenets AD

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 13 – Vladimir Putin’s earlier plans to reduce the number of federal subjects by combining poorer non-Russian republics with better off and predominantly ethnic Russian regions have long been on hold because of local opposition and fears in Moscow that fewer but larger federal subjects may be a greater threat than more numerous and smaller ones.

            But that has not stopped the Kremlin leader from promoting the amalgamation of cities and districts within both regions and republics as part of his general optimization campaign intended to save money and tighten control over both local populations and regional political elites.

            Few of these actions have attracted much outside attention, not only because they are typically far from Moscow, involve only small groups of people and do not generate much protest but also because there is a long tradition extending back to Soviet times of combining areas for demographic, economic or political purposes.

            (For background on this tradition of Russian statecraft and suggestions about its extent, see this author’s “Can Republican Borders be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990, pp. 20-21, reproduced at

            Now, however, as a result of opposition by local people and local officials, two of Moscow’s plans for amalgamation of villages and districts in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Oblast are in trouble; and Moscow has been forced to put them on hold and promise public hearings (

            While ethnic Russians form more than 60 percent of the population of this oil and gas autonomous district, most rural areas are dominated not by them but by members of the Khanty and Mansi nationalities, many of whom clearly fear that amalgamation is a plot to reduce their influence and put them under tighter ethnic Russian control.

            Thus, the fight over district amalgamation in Yamalo-Nenets is likely to prove a bellwether as far as broader efforts by the Kremlin to combine larger federal districts. That is because while Moscow will get its way if it insists, any such victory may prove Pyrrhic, given its consequences not only for other amalgamations but also for Russia’s oil and gas production.

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