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Russia: Moscow Opposes Don Cossacks' Demand For 'Own' Oblast

(RFE/RL) The Russian authorities will formally reject any request by the leaders of the State Register Don Cossacks to recreate the Don Cossack Oblast that existed a century ago by merging the present-day Rostov and Volgograd oblasts, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 November.

In the 16th century, Cossack settlers founded the republic of the Don Cossacks on the steppes along the lower and middle course of the Don River.

A spokesman for the Don Cossacks, Vladimir Ryabov, told that paper that the Don Cossacks intend to hold a referendum next year on merging the two regions. He also said that the Cossacks will revive their demand, first raised in the early 1990s, for the Cossacks to be given the status of a distinct ethnic group within Russia.

A spokesman for retired General Gennadii Troshev, who is President Vladimir Putin's adviser on Cossack affairs, said the Don Cossacks have not "officially" raised with Troshev the issue of establishing their "own" oblast. A second Russian presidential administration official categorically dismissed the idea as "rubbish," warning that "no one will allow" the creation of a Cossack territorial autonomous region.

As part of President Vladimir Putin's plans for a vast territorial-administrative reform that would reduce the number of federation subjects from the present 89 to less than one-third of that number, two mergers have already taken place in the past two years: between Perm Oblast and the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug in 2003, and between Krasnoyarsk Krai and the tiny Evenki and Taimyr autonomous okrugs in April.

A third merger -- between Kamchatka Oblast and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug -- was approved in a referendum last month. But other suggested changes, including subsuming the Republic of Adygeya into the surrounding Krasnodar Krai and recombining Chechnya and Ingushetia, have encountered resistance within the regions concerned.

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the catalyst for the revival of the Cossacks' demand for their own oblast was the new Russian legislation on municipalities, which they construed as creating favorable conditions for a redistribution of economic and political spheres of influence. (The original demand for a Cossack Oblast was intended to prevent the privatization of land, which in that hypothetical oblast would have remained under collective ownership and use.)

The daily predicted, however, that the current leaderships of both oblasts would reject the Cossacks' demand. But one such official at least will face a conflict of interest: General Viktor Vodolatskii, who is ataman both of the State Register Don Cossacks and of the Union of Cossacks of Russia and Abroad, is simultaneously a deputy governor of Rostov Oblast.

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