The law on the admission to the Russian Federation and creation of new subjects in the Federation that was ratified by the State Duma and provided for the merger of Federation subjects has been discussed by the mass media and authorities for several months already. Why is the Kremlin so interested in the liquidation of small autonomous districts that are of little political and economic significance? In fact, eighty-nine districts is a too large of an amount for Russia. The decision of the president to create seven federal districts seems to be quite logical, as it is always easier to manage a larger territorial formation. We can hardly imagine, to what extent the work of the 89 presidential envoys in the federal districts can be effective.
It is really difficult to realize the idea of federal districts’ consolidation. Many complications arise at once: to liquidate small autonomous districts, Russia needs the Constitution to be amended. Article 65 is meant in particular, as all federation subjects are enumerated in it. Although t article 66 of the RF Constitution allows for the change of the status of a federation subject “on a mutual consent of the Russian Federation and the subject itself and in accordance with the federal constitutional law," the Kremlin will certainly face legal problems upon the settlement of the issue.
This is also despite the fact that the idea of the consolidation of the federation subjects is becoming more popular in the center and in the regions as well. Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel has supported the idea for several years already. During his visit to the town of Kamensk-Uralsky in June of 2001, Eduard Rossel said that he supports the idea of the consolidation of federal subjects in order to make the statuses of districts and regions equal from a legislative point of view. In his words, it is becoming more evident that a state is to consist of equal republics, not unequal districts and regions. The Sverdlovsk governor himself is ready to adopt several regions into the Sverdlovsk region. A special department for political forecasting was created in the Sverdlovsk regional administration for work on consolidation of the federation subjects. The existing schemes for subjects consolidation differ from the point of view of the principle and concept of the consolidation itself. Even absolutely unexpected variants are suggested: it is suggested that the regions should be consolidated the same way military circuits are formed or regions are to be consolidated in accordance with the existing railway subdivisions.
The department for political forecasting is sure that one of the schemes being designed in the Sverdlovsk region for federation subjects’ consolidation will be of use to the presidential administration, even if slightly changed.
Presidential envoys also support the idea of the consolidation of the federation subjects. Such a conclusion can be drawn from the statement voiced by president’s envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevsky: “89 federation subjects is too much for Russia, the number of regions will be reduced. The Irkutsk region and Ust-Ordynsky autonomous district are the most likely candidates for consolidation.” Presidential envoy to the Urals federal district Pyotr Latyshev shares the same opinion. Perpetually arising conflicts between the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenetsk autonomous districts are really problematic for the envoy.
The idea is actively supported on the legislative level as well. Gennady Raikov, the leader of the People’s deputy faction in the State Duma is sure that “the problem of the consolidation of the federation subjects has been pressing in Russia for a long period already. Eighty-nine independent republics, regions, and autonomous districts is a too large amount even for a state that occupies one-ninth of the world’s land. Yeltsin’s formula of 'get as much sovereignty as you wish' has failed. Sovereignty, as I see it, means economic independence first of all. It is impossible to be independent and ask for help at the same time. After consolidation, we may have 12-15 federation subjects on the political map of Russia. If all of them are financially independent, we may consider the reform to be a success.”
All the same, it is not that easy as it seems. Political scientist Dmitry Ogulchansky thinks that, even if the federal center initiates a consolidation process, the formation of public opinion may take several years.
The process is to be evolutional, and it is to start at the place where all pre-conditions exist, this is the opinion of political scientists Anna Trakhtenberg. “ Unfortunately, there is no single point of view on federation subjects’ consolidation in the presidential administration now. On the whole, it is necessary to consolidate the subjects. Every federation subject, even the smallest one, has elite of its own that wishes to preserve its position. As practice shows, presidential envoys are successful with counterbalancing the regional elite and manage to restrain their excessive arrogance. If the federal subjects are consolidated, the role of the envoys will be of use even then.”
The number of supporters and opponents of innovations is approximately the same. No matter what is said, the precedent has been created in the Krasnoyarsk region.
Gazeta.Ru informs, the first trial of strength in the sphere of subjects’ consolidation carried out in the Krasnoyarsk region on the New Year’s eve was a success. The interests of the Kremlin and Krasnoyarsk governor Alexander Lebed coincided completely. As a result, the municipal council of the city of Norilsk supported creation of a single municipal formation named “the city of Norilsk” that will consist of the city itself, the satellite towns of Norilsk – Kayerkan and Talnakh, and the urban-type community of Snezhnogorsk. Alexander Lebed was satisfied with the situation and said the president was planning to liquidate a number of autonomous districts at the end of January – beginning of February. As a result, the autonomous districts of Evenkia and Taymyr are to become parts of the Krasnoyarsk region, as well as the Jewish autonomous region.
President Vladimir Putin arrived in the Krasnoyarsk region to examine the complicated social and economic situation, as well as the conflict with the Taymyr autonomous district.
Kommersant newspaper supposes that Putin’s visit to Norilsk is closely connected with the opposition between the authorities of Taymyr and the Krasnoyarsk region. The president had promised to examine the situation personally, although some officials from the presidential administration recommended not to interfere with the conflict.
The visit’s result is paradoxical, as it proves once again that it is difficult to guess what the president’s reaction will be concerning this or that problem. Vladimir Putin tries to avoid the behavioral schemes imposed on him. It was supposed the president would criticize the Krasnoyarsk governor, who is not so popular in the Kremlin, but it turned out to be just the other way round.
General Alexander Lebed has been criticized greatly, but has done a great deal at the same time. News agencies report that President Putin held a private conversation with Taymyr Governor Alexander Khloponin; the subject of the conversation is not reported. What is to be mentioned here is the claims of Norilsk have been changed after the conversation. The Legislative Assembly had originally threatened Krasnoyarsk with separation, but now the governor says it will be possible to liquidate the Taymyr autonomous district, and the dependent territory will merge then with the Krasnoyarsk region to make up one federation subject.
Polit.ru informs that Taymyr Governor Alexander Khloponin supports consolidation of Taymyr, Evenkia, and the Krasnoyarsk region into one federation subject. In Khloponin’s words, there are two disputable problems between the Krasnoyarsk region and Taymyr, particularly, budget funding and the management of the territories. There are no territorial problems between them.
Dmitry Chirkin PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/main/2002/03/25/38755.html