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Russia Report: January 30, 2003

30 January 2003, Volume 3, Number 5
By Ilya Malyakin

The notion of reforming the territorial-administrative structure of the Russian Federation has been around for almost 10 years, yet Russian politicians have been unable to transform it into a workable policy. The idea of reducing the number of regions by forming larger federation subjects has an easily understandable appeal.

First and foremost, the current administrative structure of Russia was inherited from the Soviet Union and is unnecessarily complicated. The Russian Federation has 89 subjects, some of which, such as the autonomous okrugs, are a territorial sub-unit of another, but have equal rights with the larger unit of which they are a part. Such a complex construction has at times given rise to legal confusion and conflicts, which reduce the overall manageability of the country, especially from the point of view of the federal center. Second, the majority of regions are not able to cover their budget costs from local revenues. Several have been operating for years on the edge of bankruptcy. And if they had received no financing from the federal center, then social tensions would have boiled over within their borders long ago.

Therefore, there has been little debate among Russian politicians about whether the regions should be enlarged, the only question has been how. Discussion has focused thus far on such operational nuances as the mechanism for merging subjects of the federation or the ideal number of regions. Proposals range from 30 to 50. The conventional wisdom has been that there is only a single circumstance that prevents the implementation of the reform. Policymakers believe that the list of federation subjects as they are enumerated in the constitution must be preserved, and that this list is somehow an unalienable part of that document. And to change the constitution, it would be necessary to adopt amendments, which is considered extremely difficult.

At the end of 2001, the presidential administration attempted to circumvent the need to amend the constitution by proposing a draft bill amending the federal law, "On the order of adopting and forming new subjects into the Russian Federation." That bill was passed by both legislative chambers and signed into law, but the Kremlin's legal experiment has only served to highlight the fact that the obstacle to enlarging the regions is not purely a legal or procedural one. Over the past three years, there have been three basic types of attempts to enlarge the regions. And each of the three approaches reveals a complex set of intraregional problems that must eventually be disentangled before a structural reform of the federation can take place.

The Krasnoyarsk Scenario

The first and most famous attempt occurred in Krasnoyarsk Krai. The unique characteristic of this scenario is the open interference of the Kremlin. Participants in the process to merge the regions in question appealed to the authority of the president of the Russian Federation, presenting their effort as "executing the president's order." Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Krasnoyarsk in March 2002 and reportedly suggested during a meeting with krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed that the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs should be merged with Krasnoyarsk Krai. The authority of the president was apparently so great that the idea, which had never before been discussed seriously, was swiftly approved. Negotiations between Krasnoyarsk Krai and Taimyr started, and there was even a decision to create a coordinating organ, similar to a kind of transregional "ersatz-government." However, the process was then blocked by the leadership of Evenk Autonomous Okrug, which declared that it was not interested in such a union and that Putin had not consulted them before setting the merger in motion.

Nevertheless, after Lebed's sudden death in a helicopter crash in April 2002, the Kremlin decided who to support in the election to replace him primarily based on the candidates' attitude towards such a merger. The former governor of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, Aleksandr Khloponin, evinced the greatest enthusiasm, and he won the election on 22 September -- after some controversy -- with the support of the Kremlin. He has already started a new round of negotiations with the Evenk. However, the Evenk government is not optimistic after the last round of talks, and the prospects for expanding the krai remain uncertain. In the meantime, Moscow-based officials who follow Russian regions are reserving judgment.

The Yaroslavl-Altai Scenario

A second series of attempts to reduce the number of regions can be grouped under the rubric of the Yaroslavl-Altai or "annexation" scenario. In these cases, the leadership of one federation subject expressed its ambitions vis a vis the other without taking into account the opinion of the population of the region to be annexed.

Probably the best-known example of this approach was the initiative by Yaroslavl Oblast head Anatolii Lisitsyn, who in March 2002 suggested conducting an experiment on the basis of his own donor region, Yaroslavl. (A donor region is one which contributes more to the federal budget than it receives back in the form of federal transfers.) Lisitsyn suggested joining two economically depressed regions, Kostroma and Ivanovo oblasts, to Yaroslavl Oblast. Lisitsyn promoted his proposal widely through the mass media. However, he did not attempt to enter into negotiations with his neighbors and instead appealed directly to the Kremlin, virtually demanding the support of the presidential administration. Such behavior plunged his neighbors into shock, and they demonstrated fierce opposition to the proposed merger. Clearly desiring to contain the scandal, the federal leadership distanced itself from the proceedings and did not make any kind of clear response to Lisitsyn's overtures.

The December 2002 initiative by the leadership of Altai Krai, who called for a merger with the economically depressed Altai Republic, is an even more radical example of this approach. In response to the krai leadership's call, the Altai Republic suggested conducting a referendum on joining the krai city of Biisk and its surrounding territory to the republic in order to strengthen the republic's economic prospects and to put an end to calls for its liquidation. At this stage, the conflict still has the characteristics of a propaganda war, after which any kind of unification will hardly be possible.

Many other regional heads have periodically expressed the desire to annex one or more neighboring regions. For example, in Novosibirsk Oblast, the possibility of merging with Omsk Oblast has been raised by the leadership there. And Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak has more than once discussed a possible merger with Pskov Oblast. Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has floated the idea of joining Saratov with Penza Oblast. And there have been numerous other examples. But more often than not, such suggestions are made during an election campaign, and rarely lead to concrete action.

The Irkutsk-Perm Scenario

The third group falls under the category of the Irkutsk-Perm or "Negotiation" scenario. These attempts to form larger regions appear to have been more successful than those outlined above. The question of joining Perm Oblast with the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug and Irkutsk Oblast with the Ust-Ordynskii Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug appears at the present time to be almost resolved. This outcome can be credited to the pursuit of lengthy negotiations, giving all the participants in the process an opportunity to fully defend their interests. In the case of Irkutsk, the discussion even touched on the creation of a new federation subject, which would be called Pribaikalskii Krai.

However, even in these cases, obstacles have appeared. In Komi-Permyak, for example, the indigenous population is actively opposed to a unification with Perm Oblast. In its evaluation of that possibility, the Komi People's Movement said that such a union would lead to the assimilation of the national minority, and therefore it would be more rational to join the okrug not with Perm Oblast but with the Komi Republic, in which the rights of the titular minority are better defended legally.

Unlike with the other scenarios, in all these cases, a genuine intraregional problem -- rather than some kind of external political calculation -- is hindering the unification process. Politicians have been talking about the merger of economically stronger neighbors with the autonomous okrugs organized along ethnic lines, and seeking the opinion of the indigenous population has so far not been a priority. In response to this trend, the Council of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic has already expressed discomfort at the preparations for "gubernization" of Russia, calling such plans dangerous. As one of the council's deputies declared, "the authors of this idea do not understand that they may wind up with 89 Chechen Republics."

And other significant obstacles to forming larger regions also exist. Opposition to such changes is expressed not only in the smaller, economically depressed regions but also in the larger, economically healthier regions. For example, in Irkutsk Oblast, members of the legislative assembly have responded coolly to idea of absorbing its poorer neighbor, noting that the smaller region's financial problems will unavoidably exacerbate the socioeconomic situation of the new larger region as a whole.

Another problem is that the formation of larger regions will inevitably produce winners and losers among members of the regional elite. Under the current system, each of the 89 federation subjects receives its own subsidies from the federal budget and has its own representation in the Federation Council. The failure to provide for the interests of the potentially disenfranchised poses another problem for reforming the federation's structure. All of these intraregional problems are real, but the Kremlin is not ready to resolve them.

Similarly, the Kremlin is not ready to deal with the problem that it does acknowledge, that is, the previously mentioned problem of the difficulty of revising the constitution. On the eve of the parliamentary and presidential elections it would hardly be wise for the Kremlin to initiate the complex process of amending the constitution, which once it is started could easily become unmanageable. Therefore reform of the federal structure is unlikely to get under way earlier than the second half of 2004.

So while the "battle" over restructuring the regions is likely to continue for some time, in the meantime, the debate over the process has produced one result of which the Kremlin can already take advantage. The discussion about which regions should be joined and under what conditions has pitted the governors against one another and forced them to promote Moscow's initiatives more energetically.

Political analysts are increasingly characterizing various episodes of Russian political life with the term "special operations." In this case, we might ask if the recent intensification of discussion about enlarging the regions has itself been a "special operation." After all, what has been the most strikingly visible result of the intensifying discussion about enlarging the regions? Perhaps add that? the principle of "divide and conquer" has once again shown its effectiveness in Russia.

Ilya Malyakin founded the Volga Information Agency in 1991 and remains its chief editor. He also works as an independent regional expert with the Moscow-based International Institute for Humanitarian and Political Studies.

The State Duma approved on 24 January in its first reading a presidential bill on government service, reported. The bill, which the administration introduced on 21 November, establishes three types of government service: civil, military, and law enforcement. It also introduces different categories of responsibilities such as "directors," "advisers," "specialists," and "providers," and defines the legal status of each category. The goal of the legislation, according to, is to create an administrative system for state service at the federal and regional levels, along with delimiting sources for financing these services. The number of civil servants has almost doubled in the past 10 years, growing to 1.053 million. There are 2.8 civil servants for every 1,000 Russians, compared with 3.9 in the United States and 5.2 in England. JAC

The State Duma's fall session was as productive as previous ones if measured in terms of bills passed in all three readings; however, the fall session of 2002 differed markedly from the fall session of the previous year in that fewer pieces of landmark legislation were passed. In fall of 2002, the Land Code, Labor Code, Criminal Procedure Code, and Administrative Code were all passed (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 7 January 2002). During the last session, one of the few substantive reforms passed was that of the electoral system. The electricity-sector reforms were discussed but so far have been passed only in the first reading. JAC

State Duma: Session By Session


Number of
laws examined
by Duma______297___447___274___733___312___476___370___624

Number of laws
approved only in
first reading____48____65____60____69____58____56____47____78

Number of laws
approved only in
second reading__9_____7_____7____10_____7_____2_____9_____9

Number of laws
approved in third
and final reading_113__109___88___158____74____94___158___225

Number of laws signed by
president of those
approved during
given period_____83__105___67____126___50____81____44___157

Source: State Duma via as of 20 January

IN: All-Russia State Television and Radio Company Chairman Oleg Dobrodeev on 24 January appointed Svetlana Mironyuk as chairwoman of the board of the RIA-Novosti news agency, replacing Aleksei Zhidakov, who has been transferred to an unspecified post in the Media Ministry. From 1992 to 2000, Mironyuk worked as deputy head of information, analysis, and public and media relations for the Most Group.

IN: Legislators in Sakha (Yakutia) Republic have selected Aleksandr Matveev, former first vice president of diamond producer Alrosa, as their representative in the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 January. Matveev replaces Robert Burnashov, a former deputy head of the republican administration, who served less than a year.

IN: Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on International Relations, was elected on 27 January a deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Congress of Europe.

OUT: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has dismissed two deputy property relations ministers, Vladimir Mamigonov and Shalva Breis, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 and 28 January. Mamigonov has been transferred to unspecified other work in the government, and Breis reportedly asked to be released.

OUT: Unified Russia's General Council decided on 27 January to expel political consultant Yulia Krizhanskaya from the party for activities that discredit the party, RosBalt reported on 28 January citing Duma Deputy Vladislav Reznik (Unity). Krizhanskaya was formerly an influential person in the party hierarchy and a deputy chairwoman of the party's Central Executive Committee.

FORMED: A new interfactional association for State Duma deputies has been launched under the name of For Traditional Spiritual and Moral Values in Russia, Interfax reported on 22 January. The coordinator of the new group is Deputy Valerii Galchenko (People's Deputy), and it boasts some 41 members, including representatives of all of Russia's "traditional religions." According to Galchenko, the group's purpose is to give "traditional religious communities the opportunity to participate in a modern parliament and to influence the formation of the legislative base in the spiritual/moral sphere of society."

DECEASED: Smolensk Mayor Ivan Averchenkov, 57, died of a heart attack on 26 January. He had served as mayor since 1998.

30 January: International Monetary Fund mission scheduled to visit Moscow to evaluate the development of Russia's economy

End of January: Date by which the issue of whether Colonel General Gennadii Troshev will resign from the armed forces will be resolved, according to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 5 January

Early February: President Putin will visit Paris

1 February: New Labor Code will come into effect

1 February: New Civil Procedure Code will come into effect

2 February: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Magadan Oblast to replace Valentin Tsvetkov, who was killed in Moscow in October

3-7 February: Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo to visit Urals Federal District

4 February: President Putin to attend opening ceremony of the Year of Russian Culture in Berlin

4-5 February: A national conference on "Information Security in Russia in a Global Information Society" will be held in Moscow

16 February: Elections will be held in the Republic of Mordovia to elect the head of the republic (not called a president under republican law)

21 February: State Duma will consider first bill in an effort to reform local self-government

27-28 February: The Union of the People of Chechnya movement will meet in Moscow, State Duma Deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov announced on 18 December

8 March: International Women's Day observed

23 March: A referendum will be held in Chechnya on the republic's draft constitution and draft laws on the election of the president and parliament

24 March: Terms of members of the current Central Election Commission will expire

29 March: Unified Russia party will hold a congress

May: St. Petersburg will celebrate the 300th anniversary of its founding

31 May: Russia-EU summit will take place in St. Petersburg.