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#14 - JRL 7067
February 18, 2003
Kremlin coordinates loss of regional autonomy
By Anton Brazhitsa

This week the governor of Perm Region Yuri Trutnev and the head of the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area Gennadiy Saveliev took the first step towards the creation of a new constituent member of the Russian Federation by agreeing to merge their two provinces. On Monday the regional leaders signed a memorandum making the regional centre Perm, currently the main city of the Perm Region. Thus, the residents of the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area will become guinea pigs for Vladimir Putins experiment of region enlargement.

On Monday evening the governor of Perm and the head of the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area met in the town of Kudymkar and signed an agreement and memorandum to establish the new constituent member of the Russian Federation through the merger of their two provinces. The memorandum contains proposals on how the new entity should be structured and its authorities function, as well as socio-economic programmes, budget funding, and preserving the area's national and cultural identity, Interfax was told by the Perm Region governor's press service.

According to the agreement, within 10 days of its signing the region and area will send a joint message to President Putin requesting the formation of a new member of the federation by way of the merger. The aim of creating the new federal component is to increase living standards, reduce demographic and socio-economic imbalances between the two provinces, make state governance more effective including regional control of economic processes, and also ensure that the interests of various parts of the region are better represented, including those of depressed areas, the document says.

According to the head of the representative office of the Perm Region under the federal government Alexander Potekhin, the idea of merging the two regions emerged quite a while ago. Back in 2000 the residents of the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area had the right to vote not only in their province, but also in the neighbouring Perm Region, and could cast ballots for gubernatorial candidates and elect deputies of local legislatures in both provinces.

''At almost all his meetings with voters Yuri Trutnev called for uniting the area with the Perm Region,'' Potekhin said. Thus, Perm became one of the main candidates for the implementation of a key part of Vladimir Putins internal policy aimed at strengthening the federal centre and enlarging regions to make them more manageable for the federal authorities.

It was decided that Komi-Permyak, a weak region largely dependent on subsidies from the federal centre, with a population of some 150,000 residents (less than a district of Moscow), would be merged with stronger Perm. The next step was made in September last year, when the Justice Ministrys regional directorates in the two provinces were merged.

On New Years Eve President Vladimir Putin submitted a bill drafted by the deputy chief of the Kremlin administration Dmitry Kozak to the State Duma, envisaging the transfer of the most important powers from the authorities of the autonomous areas to the authorities of the regions, to which those areas belong.

Regional observers noted then that the draft, which, according to Kozak, was aimed to ''serve as an incentive'' for regional enlargement, and that should it become law, would strip the Komi-Permyak Area of its powers and federal subsidies. The Komi-Permyak authorities realized that an attack on the area had begun and local lawmakers themselves put forward constructive proposals for a merger.

Despite the fact that the Kremlin has virtually predetermined the fate of the two regions, formally, their fate will be decided by the people in compliance with democratic procedures. For that purpose the authorities of the two regions have called a referendum to be held, most likely, in December 2003 at the same time as the elections to the State Duma in order to save on costs.

As the State Duma deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin, representing the Perm Region in the lower house, told Gazeta.Ru, even though after the merger the Komi-Permyak Area will lose its organs of power and a seat in the upper house, those political losses are unlikely to cause any negative consequences for the areas economy. On the contrary, in the opinion of Pokhmelkin, the population will only benefit from the merger because it will boost investment in the local economy.

To convince the residents of the area of that should be fairly easy. Having agreed on the merger, the only thing that the two governors failed to agree on is the name of the new constituent member of the federation. The head of the autonomous area insists any name will do except the Perm Region.

The chairman of the Perm regional Duma Nikolai Devyatkin, on the contrary, believes there is no sense in changing names because before the autonomous area was separated from the Perm Region back in the 1990s, the region was called Perm. In the meantime, the authorities have proposed several variants for the new region the Komi-Permyak Region, the Komi-Perm Region, and even the Parma Region. Recently the Perm Territory was even proposed.

According to Alexander Potekhin, the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area will fully cease to exist in two years when the residents of Perm vote for a governor of the new enlarged region. The governors inauguration will mark the end of the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area.

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