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#2 - JRL 7069 - RAS 16

SOURCE. Grigory Olekh (Novosibirsk State Univer sity), Ukrupnenie sibirskikh regionov: nastroeniia i povedenie provintsial'noi elity [Amalgamation of Siberian Regions: Moods and Behavior of the Provincial Elite] (unpublished)

In this paper Professor Olekh considers the issue of the amalgamation into larger units of the territorial formations that currently constitute the Russian Federation, again focusing on the implications for Siberia. (1)

In 2002 the Russian establishment anxiously awaited the administrative reform being prepared inside the Presidential Administration by the Kozak commission. The distribution of power and resources among levels and groups of the ruling class will depend on the outcome.

From the start rumors circulated among politicians and journalists that the Kremlin intends to reconfigure the administrative-territorial division of the country by merging existing units into a smaller number of subjects of the federation and eliminating all or some of the ethnically based units (republics and autonomous districts).

The initial reaction (in early 2002) to this speculation by many regional leaders was one of distrust and hostility. Tyumen governor Sobyanin called the rumors "groundless": his province did not "intend to unite with anyone." Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Khakassia called the idea of amalgamating regions "crazy."

However, regional leaders were forced to take the matter seriously. In March 2002 Putin visited Krasnoyarsk. One purpose of the visit was to settle the conflict between governor of the Krasnoyarsk territory, the late General Alexander Lebed, and then governor of the Taimyr autonomous district Khloponin. (Such conflict is rooted in the ambiguous status of the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous districts, which are regarded BOTH as constituent parts of the Krasnoyarsk territory AND as subjects of the federation in their own right.) But Putin also went to Krasnoyarsk to meet with representatives of a broader set of Siberian regions and give them clearly to understand that the decision to amalgamate existing regions had already been taken (even if the details remained to be settled). It was time, he added, to abolish autonomous units. The message was rubbed in by Leonid Drachevsky, presidential representative for the Siberian federal district, when he visited Krasnoyarsk in May and August.

It is now evident that the first aim of the reform is to absorb autonomous districts and some of the smaller ethnic republics into the larger territories or provinces with which they are (or have been) linked. The amalgamation of unitary territorial formations, such as Novosibirsk, Tomsk, and Chita provinces, is a matter for the more distant future.

The amalgamation that is furthest advanced is the planned fusion of Irkutsk province and the Buryat Ust-Ordyn autonomous district into a new Baikal province. In this case the leaders of the two units, Irkutsk governor Govorin and Ust-Orda head Maleyev, are cooperating to bring the fusion to completion. One reason is that the Kremlin promises to provide generous material support to "the Irkutsk experiment" in order to create a showcase that will encourage other regions to follow suit. Another reason is that both leaders have already served two terms and cannot be re-elected to their positions anyway.

Another planned amalgamation is the absorption of the (ethnic) Republic of Altai into the (non-ethnic) Altai territory. Lapshin, recently elected leader of the Republic of Altai, has maintained a "meaningful silence" on the issue, suggesting that here too some kind of deal is in the works.

In the Krasnoyarsk territory the amalgamation issue remains the center of sharp controversy, arguably because the control of such rich resources is at stake. Zolotaryov, head of the Evenk autonomous district, has warned that the issue is already poisoning the atmosphere and might produce a "social explosion" in Evenkia. Mankhirova, chair of the Association of Native Peoples of Taimyr, has predicted a negative reaction of native people to the "dissolution" of the Taimyr autonomous district into the Krasnoyarsk territory because "we have already been a single territory [in the Soviet period] and well remember how we were financed according to the residual principle and how the territory authorities paid not the slightest attention to the problems of the native population." Taimyr leader Khloponin, pointing out that 70 percent of Taimyr's budget comes from Norilsk Nickel, has sarcastically invited the Krasnoyarsk territory to merge into the Taimyr autonomous district instead of vice versa. (2)

The idea has also been mooted of re-incorporating Khakassia into the Krasnoyarsk territory. Until 1991, when it became a separate ethnic republic of the RF, Khakassia was an autonomous province within the Krasnoyarsk territory. The leadership of the Republic of Khakassia is dead set against re-incorporation, especially in view of the fact that it would take place in the context of the elimination of all autonomous units.


(1) I summarized an earlier paper by Professor Olekh on relations among Siberian regions in RAS No. 12 item 1.

(2) Norilsk Nickel is Russia's biggest non-ferrous metallurgy enterprise. "A November 1997 power-sharing agreement between the federal government , the Krasnoyarsk territory, and the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous districts gave the latter some of the money generated by the plants located on their territories. This funding was sufficient to pay public sector salaries, pensions, and children's benefits, affording the autonomous districts some independence from the territory. In March 1999 Norilsk Nikel, as well as some of [Taimyr's] other big enterprises, reached an agreement with Krasnoyarsk governor Lebed stipulating that 80 percent of the income tax will stay in the district, more than is usually the practice" (http://www.bisnis.doc.gov/bisnis/country/000511taimyr.htm).

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