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#12 - JRL 7231
No. 93
June 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]

The map of Russia will radically change after the presidential elections, i.e., the number of the Russian Federation's subjects may be halved. The campaign to enlarge the regions has already been launched. Among its participants are the country's top politicians, including the State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev and the Federation Council's head Sergei Mironov, not to speak of the Russian president Vladimir Putin and his representatives in the federal districts.

Recently, Gennady Seleznev voiced the final goal of the campaign: the number of the Russian Federation's subjects should be reduced from 89 to 40, and the institution of federal districts will probably be abolished. By now, five projects of the regions' enlargement - in the north and in Siberia - have been made public. First of all, the so-called composite districts will be merged, i.e., those of them which include autonomous areas. The first new region will be the Perm Territory.

Perm Territory

Project Number One: Perm region + Komi-Permyak autonomous area

Recently, a closed session was held in the Kremlin, at the office of deputy chief of the president's administration Vladislav Surkov. The session discussed the formation of a new Federation subject - the Perm territory. Surkov heads the "interdepartmental working group for preparing the formation of a new subject of the Russian Federation and substantiating the expediency of such a formation." The group is working out the mechanism for uniting the two subjects of the Russian Federation: the Perm region and the Komi-Permyak autonomous area.

If everything goes well and the Perm territory is formed, other new "enlarged" regions may appear on the map of Russia according to the same scheme.

In an interview given to the Perm newspaper "Novy kompanion," Leonid Gilchenko, deputy representative of the Russian Federation's president in the Volga federal district, said that the session discussed in detail all problems that might arise between the finance ministry, the economic development and trade ministry and the local authorities in the process of the merger. "The scenario was proposed whereby the Komi-Permyak autonomous area will enter the Perm Territory as a single municipal entity," Gilchenko said.

The unification of Federation subjects is a troublesome business. First of all, it must be approved by local residents at a referendum. In the words of the session participants, Vladislav Surkov gave the local authorities a month for fixing the dates for the referendum.

Secondly, a new body of authority should be set up in the region, which should include representatives of all the merged subjects; the question of the election of the new governor should be decided, a new common budget should be drafted, etc. Meanwhile, very little time is given for all this.

In Gilchenko's words, "by July 10, 2003, Vladislav Surkov must report to the Russian president about the agreements reached between the federal authorities and the bodies of state authority of the Perm region and the Komi-Permyak autonomous area." Prior to this, the merger issue must be put to a referendum. Most probably, the referendum will be held in late December, simultaneously with the State Duma elections.

Then, the Surkov-headed interdepartmental working group will submit a proposal to the Russian Federation's president to discuss in the Duma a draft federal constitutional law on the status of the new subject of the Federation.

According to a Gazeta source, the draft law has already been prepared and is being discussed by the government now.

Things are moving fast. Only a year ago, the Perm governor Yuri Trutnev said in an interview to the Kudymkar newspaper Parma-Novosti that "a new united Urals region... must appear on the country's map by the end of 2005." Trutnev gave an economic substantiation to this merger: the timber- and oil-rich Komi-Permyak autonomous area needs investments and comprehensive management from the neighbouring Perm region, especially considering the fact that because before 1992 the area was part of the Perm region.

Irkutsk Territory

Project Number Two: Irkutsk region + Ust-Orda Buryat autonomous area

The Ust-Orda Buryat autonomous area is one of the poorest regions in Russia. several years ago, candidates to the State Duma, which were elected there, speculated on the idea that the area should be united with the Irkutsk region, and then life in the area will be better. The Irkutsk region is a donor region and the area within it is obviously interested in the merger, all the more so since the area was part of the Irkutsk region (with the rights of a national autonomy) before 1993. However, real political work on the merger began here (as in Perm) only in 2002, after Leonid Drachevsky's appointment as the Russian president's representative in the Siberian federal district. Following Drachevsky's visits to Irkutsk and Ust-Orda, working commissions for the merger have been set up in both cities.

Valery Khalanov, Drachevsky's deputy, who earlier held the post of chief of the Buryat FSB (Federal Security Service) department, was made coordinator of the unification process. In March 2003, Drachevsky made another visit to Ust-Orda, after which the two commisions were united into one. The commission will also be headed by Valery Khalanov.

As Drachevsky explained in one of his interviews, "the unification of the regions should not be an end in itself. The unification process is far from simple. No one wants to forfeit anything or forget about one's own interests. Nevertheless, these two Federation subjects have come closest to unification. In an interview with journalists, Sergei Boskholov, vice-governor and head of the working group of the Irkutsk region, even named the unification dates: "Ust-Orda and the Irkutsk region will unite in the middle of Vladimir Putin's second presidential term. This will happen at the start of 2006."

However, in Ust-Orda itself Drachevsky was confronted with a problem which he failed to resolve. Valery Maleyev, governor of the Ust-Orda Buryat autonomous area, is against the unification. He says that there should be no hurry in this matter. Maleyev enjoys support in the area: recently, he raised wages to employees of his administration and to municipal employees.

There is another problem as well. Buryat nationalists are active in peddling the idea of recreating a single Greater Buryatia which, prior to 1937, included the Ust-Orda area and the Aginsky area (now part of the Chita region), and the Republic of Buryatia. Recently, Buryat national movements issued an open letter signed by 20 representatives of the local elite. The letter reads in part that, "ignoring the rights of a nation to self-determination and self-government, the press presents information on the alleged great desire of the Ust-Orda residents to join the region." It also calls on the "residents of the three Buryat regions to express their solidarity and unanimity in upholding their national statehood." In mid-June, the all-Buryat congress devoted to the unity of the Buryat people will be held. As Ivan Manuyev, member of the organising committee of the congress, said to a Gazeta correspondent, the congress will discuss the "threat of the area's abolition." Faced with this opposition, the federal authorities have noticeably slackened their activities in the unification process. However, in the local analysts' opinion, this situation will last till the State Duma and presidential elections. After the elections, there will be enough time to complete the unification by the scheduled date of 2006.

Northern Territory, Arctic Territory, Pomor-Nenets Republic

Project Number Three: Arkhangelsk region + Murmansk region + Nenets autonomous area + Komi Republic

In Arkhangelsk, the idea of the regions' enlargement was promoted by Valentina Matviyenko, the president's representative in the North-Western federal district. During her visit to Arkhangelsk at the end of April, she said at a press-conference that the federal Centre would support the unification of the Nenets autonomous area and the Arkhangelsk region. At the same time, she stressed that "there will be no commands from Moscow." The process "should develop from the inside" and "everything should be done on the basis of economic calculations." Like all other advocates of the unification idea, Matviyenko makes no public steps in order to intensify this process. There are other people to do this in Arkhangelsk. Almost simultaneously with Valentina Matviyenko's arrival, a group of Arkhangelsk scientists sent an impressive address to the governors of the Arkhangelsk region, the Murmansk region and the Nenets autonomous area, as well as to Valentina Matviyenko herself. The letter is called "On the Formation of a New Subject Within the Russian Federation Through Uniting the Arkhangelsk Region, the Murmansk Region and the Nenets Autonomous Area." On some ten pages, the scientists described in great detail why and how the areas should be united. According to the professors, "the Arkhangelsk region, the Murmansk region and the Nenets autonomous area are Russia's northern territories with a common historical destiny, similar climatic and natural conditions, the /predominantly/ Russian population, similar economic structures and the same social and demographic problems." They refer to the experience of the 1708-1921 period, when the Murmansk region (the former Alexandrovsky uyezd) and the Nenets autonomous area (the former Pechorsky uyezd) were incorporated into the Arkhangelsk gunernia.

As to the grounds for unification, the scientists' reasoning is simple enough: "an enlarged subject of the Russian Federation will have more opportunities for advance than the three subjects acting on their own." "We have timber, oil and gas, diamonds, unique mineral raw materials in terms of both content and reserves, the fisheries, the production of rare metals, paper, cardboard and other sectors of the economy. A uniform strategy for the development of our northern territories, a balanced and scientifically-grounded regional policy and common rules of the game in the economy - these and other issues are better resolved in a single economic and legal space."

A programme of action proposed by the scientists is similar to the programme which is being implemented in Perm now: at first, "to set up a Northern working commission for drafting proposals and thoroughly examining all issues related to the unification." There are several versions of names for the new subject of the Russian Federation: the Northern Territory, the Arctic Territory, the Pomor-Nenets Republic, and others. The capital of the new Russian Federation's subject could be Severodvinsk, Kotlas or Murmansk. The governor will have three deputies - for the Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and Nenets areas. The Northern "parliament" will include 12 representatives from each region. All this will be written into a draft federal constitutional law, which is to be submitted to the president for consideration.

In the scientists' opinion, the referendum on the unification could be held on March 14, 2004, simultaneously with the presidential election. The new Russian Federation's subject is to appear by 2005.

However, neither Matviyenko's words nor the scientists' letter have been supported by the local elite. Murmansk insists on its independence. "Let the governors of the Arkhangelsk Region and the Nenets area come to terms first, and only then deal with major problems" said the Murmansk governor Yuri Yevdokimov to the Gazeta correspondent. "We shall retain our present status in the near future."

Despite the local authorities' cool attitude to the project, the unification idea is developing in the region. When answering journalists' questions, Valentina Matviyenko did not rule out the possibility of uniting the Nenets autonomous area not only with the Arkhangelsk Region, but also with the Komi Republic. This means that, should the new Russian Federation's subject be created, it will occupy a huge territory in the north of Russia and, as the scientists proposed, can claim the status of a republic. The economic expediency of creating such a republic has not yet been substantiated, and this is the main argument of the opponents of this unification. "This initiative should be based on a coherent feasibility study," Mikhail Gmyrin, deputy of the Arkhangelsk regional assembly, told Gazeta correspondent. "We must explain what the unification will give to the population of the united regions and of Russia as a whole. We shall talk about this matter when ordinary Northerners understand the theoretical base of the 'official unification'."

Siberian Republic

Project Number Four: Krasnoyarsk Territory + Taimyr autonomous area + Evenk autonomous area

Alexander Khloponin, governor of the Krasnoyarsk Kerritory, Oleg Budargin, governor of the Taimyr autonomous area, and Boris Zolotarev, governor of the Evenk autonomous area, are unanimous in their support for the unification idea. However, they are in no hurry to make real steps towards unification. They prefer to talk about stage-by-stage harmonisation of their regions' economies while planning to protract this process for several years. Nevertheless, as representatives of the local administrations said to the Gazeta correspondent, the governors' positions on the unification are determined by the will of the country's leadership and that work in that direction has been in full swing since the start of the current year.

The governors have already passed through the first stage of unification: at the end of February they set up a Three Territories' Union. The formation of the Union was initiated by Alexander Khloponin. The Union meets in regular sessions, and the three governors decide jointly all issues but make no further steps towards unification. Khloponin says repeatedly that he supports the unification, but he declines to talk about concrete dates.

As he said at a Union's session, "this is a matter of the distant future, and we are actively working for it. There is time for everything... This is a project for the next few years." The governor prefers informal unification through the created Union. As he said, all the three governors have set the aim to transform the governors' union into a strong administrative body capable of taking joint decisions.

Following the governors' example, the local deputies have set up a council of the three territories' legislatures. So far, there have been no reports about any concrete political steps made by this council. It is quite possible that it is working now on the draft constitutional law concerning the formation of the new Russian Federation's subject (just the way it was done in the Perm region). Such a draft law can only be submitted on behalf of the local deputies. In the opinion of the Gazeta sources in the local parliaments, the most realistic timeframe for submitting the draft law is late 2004-early 2005. In this case, the regions' unification may take place at the end of the Krasnoyarsk and Taimyr governors' terms of office.

Tyumen Territory

Project Number Five: Tyumen region + Yamal-Nenets autonomous area + Khanty-Mansi autonomous area

In the Tyumen region, the idea of uniting the region with the autonomous areas incorporated in it has come about in a way different from other "composite" regions. The thing is that the Yamal-Nenets and the Khanty-Mansi autonomous areas are considerably richer than the Tyumen region and occupy a larger territory. The combined budgets of the two autonomous areas amount to nearly 2 billion dollars exceeding the Tyumen region's budget by three times. For this reason, the Tyumen region is extremely interested in establishing real control over the autonomous areas formally incorporated into it. Recently, there has been much talk in the region about such an opportunity due to a reform of the local self-government worked out in the Kremlin. The draft law "On the Common Principles of Forming the Legislative and Executive Bodies of State Authority in the Russian Federation's Subjects," as prepared by the president's administration under Dmitry Kozak's guidance and adopted by the State Duma in its first reading, will put many revenue-related powers of the autonomous areas under Tyumen's control. Among them is the receipt of revenues from state-owned properties, collection of regional taxes and, what is most important, the collection of taxes on the extracted minerals. The rich "satellites" of the Tyumen region raised the alarm and started talk about the intention to forcibly unite them into a new Russian Federation's subject. Even the name was given to it - the Tyumen territory.

Alexander Filipenko, governor of the Khanty-Mansi autonomous area, said that, should this happen, he would resign from his post. "Amendments proposed by the Kozak-led group do not meet the area's vital interests; they are contrary to the objective realities and the norms of the Russian Federation's Constitution," Filipenko said to the Gazeta. Sergei Kharyuchi, head of the Yamal-Nenets parliament, went even further by saying that "the area will withdraw from the Tyumen region and become a completely independent subject if the Kozak-proposed reform is implemented." Pyotr Volostrigov, senator from the Khanty-Mansi autonomous area submitted to the Federation Council amendments to Kozak's draft law. According to these amendments, the autonomous areas cannot be subject to reform. However, the amendments did not go any furtherso far.

After all these harsh statements, Vladimir Putin visited Tyumen last March. He held a meeting there with the heads of the regions belonging to the Urals federal district. At the meeting, Filipenko avoided harsh statements, but criticised the Kozak- proposed reform. "If a region exercises all its 148 powers, it is a Federation subject, and if it exercises only half of them - it is a semi-subject," he said. He seemed to hint that the Khanty- Mansi autonomous area had more grounds to be considered a Federation subject than the Tyumen region. Putin answered evasively: "Then, the subjects should be halved, united, divided or merged..."

While the local governors tried to guess whether their regions would be merged or divided, the public movement called the Tyumen Youth Union decided to conduct a referendum in the region on the question: "Do you support the formation of three equitable subjects of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Tyumen region: the Tyumen region (on the Tyumen region's territory, without autonomous areas), the Yugorsky region (on the territory of the Khanty-Mansi autonomous area), and the Yamal region (on the territory of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous area)?" At first glance, this is a step towards the Tyumen region's final break from the autonomous areas. But there is one noteworthy factor. The population of the Tyumen region (without the autonomous areas) is double that of the Khanty-Mansi autonomous area and the Yamal-Nenets autonomous area taken together. This means that if the referendum is announced, the overwhelming majority of the region's population will support the unification beneficial for the Tyumen region. The "rich" autonomous areas will undoubtedly lose. It is not ruled out that the Tyumen region has become a sort of proving ground for working out the technology of uniting rich but not populous subjects with poor but populous subjects of the Federation. The interest of the federal Centre is clear enough - the rich subjects will provide for the poor ones.

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