Borders of Russian regions: why do officials need a new redistribution within the country

Borders of Russian regions: why do officials need a new redistribution within the country

Borders of Russian regions: why do officials need a new redistribution within the country

18 May 2021, 08:48
Two weeks ago, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said that it would be nice to consolidate some regions of Russia.

The Kremlin has already managed to declare that this is not officially discussed at a high level, and Khusnullin himself has emphasized that this is only his subjective opinion, and the topic does not subside.

Victoria Pavlova

Already the head of Khakassia, Valentin Konovalov, is in a hurry to declare that talking about the unification of the region with its neighbors is "premature and absolutely useless." True, it makes a reservation and adds: "any idea has a right to exist." It is unlikely that the topic of the unification of regions has evoked such a strong response in power circles exclusively theoretically. And it is clearly not only the residents of Khakassia that should think about the immediate territorial prospects.

Novye Izvestia, together with experts, turned to the experience of administrative reforms of the Soviet and recent Russian past, and tried to figure out whether the possible enlargement of regions is beneficial to anyone other than officials in our country.

Rake dances

Attempts to reformat the administrative-territorial units in Russia are not a new phenomenon. Traditionally, we can break and recreate not only temples. In the period from 2003 to 2008, as a result of five mergers, the number of subjects of the Russian Federation decreased from 89 to 83 (now there are 85 of them - Crimea and Sevastopol have been added). In 2001, a federal constitutional law "On the Procedure for Adopting in the Russian Federation and Forming a New Subject of the Russian Federation within it" was even adopted for this case. First, the Perm region was united with the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug - in the Perm Territory. Next, the Taimyr (Dolgano-Nenets) and Evenk Autonomous Okrugs became part of the Krasnoyarsk Territory. In 2007, the Kamchatka Region and Koryak Autonomous Okrug were merged into the Kamchatka Territory. The last in this series was the unification of the Chita region and the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous Okrug into the Trans-Baikal Territory.

But the first half of the twentieth century turned out to be especially generous in experiments. In the period from 1924 to 1928, a consolidation reform took place, as a result of which only 11 autonomous republics, 7 territories, 6 regions, 14 autonomous regions and 2 national districts - a total of 40 subjects - remained in the RSFSR. These experiments have not always been successful. Olga Vendina, a leading researcher at the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, explains:

- in 1928, from the Voronezh, Kursk, Tambov and Oryol provinces, a huge Central Black Earth Region was created with its center in Voronezh. The new structure destroyed and simplified the old administrative structures, the former bureaucratic contacts that had developed "under the tsar" lost their significance, although many local officials continued to work. But the "lightness" of the created system immediately revealed a lack of competencies, poor knowledge of the problems of a huge territory and low efficiency. Therefore, already in 1934 the Central Black Earth Region was divided into Voronezh and Kursk regions, and in 1937 the system returned to the former provincial composition, but in a slightly modified form.

As a result, in 1930, a program of downsizing began, which by 1960 led to the emergence of 16 autonomous republics, 6 territories, 49 regions, 5 autonomous regions, 10 autonomous districts and 2 cities of republican subordination - a total of 88 subjects. Thus, the idea of enlarging the regions was put on a fat point.

Agglomerations in Russian: what does the enlargement of regions lead to against their will

Let's digress a little from the Russian-Soviet experience and see how the leading developed countries of the world cope with the issue of marking the boundaries of their own territories within the state. They live in large agglomerations. The Russian government seems to have also chosen the path of development of agglomerations. And this is another reason for the consolidation of regions, according to Marat Khusnullin. However, in the same USA, the division into states is not an obstacle to the formation of agglomerations. New York as one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world (more than 22 million people) is both New York itself and New Jersey, which formally belong to different states. In the United States, even statistics are not tied to formal administrative divisions. Since 2010, the US Office of Management and Budget has identified 5 types of statistical areas, among which the main ones are Metropolitan Static Area and Micropolitan Static Area. And they, in turn, can be combined into combined areas. The system is not yet ideal, but the formal administrative boundaries have already been crossed.

In our country, however, the creation of full-fledged agglomerations rests on the administrative boundaries. Even Moscow and the Moscow Region, although they are counted as a single region in terms of population size and are among the world's largest agglomerations, have a lot of differences. According to Olga Vendina, the physical unification of Moscow with the Moscow Region and St. Petersburg with the Leningrad Region, which has been mentioned more than once, is far from the best solution.

- This kind of association is evidence of several weaknesses at once. First, the weakness of the culture of dialogue, the inability to negotiate and reconcile interests, which leads to authoritarian decisions on regional expansion in the spirit of Moscow's expansion and the reassignment of the annexed territories to another government body. Most often this happens in the interests of any large business, for example, construction, ignores local problems, primarily environmental, and municipal institutions. There is an illusion that the discontent of local residents can be “poured” with money and symbolic bonuses like the status of a Muscovite, but this does not work. Rather, local nihilism is growing and distrust of the authorities is growing, which periodically brings political surprises. Secondly, the idea of creating a supra-regional body of territorial administration of the agglomeration - a mediator in coordinating projects and interests - is replaced by the idea of one-man command. Third, helplessness in the face of the predatory policies of neighboring regions trying to use the benefits and resources of their neighborhood without taking into account the damage caused.

If in developed countries the agglomeration is about people and the economy, then in Russia, rather, about the redistribution of spheres of influence and budgets. In theory, since the government is now thinking about the merger of the subjects of the Russian Federation, then surely there should be a justification, supported by the positive experience of the past wave of consolidation. This should be the case in an ideal world, but according to our experts, in practice, there are much more flaws in this story.

According to political scientist Alexander Kynev, the situation in the regions that have lost their independence has not improved.

- Those regions that were liquidated in the first half of the 2000s have lost today, after liquidation, from a third to a quarter of their population. That is, they were already poor, but became a zone of total degradation and devastation: a massive departure of specialists, a massive drop in income. Anyone feel better about it? If you stop talking about it, this does not mean that the problem has disappeared. That is, this is absolute stupidity, on the contrary, the status of territories, and the right to declare their rights at a high level - this, firstly, allows you to mobilize the resource of self-development, this allows you to develop self-identification. In terms of development, this is a plus, not a minus.

The independent subjects were then liquidated by force, in all these regions (Komi-Permyak, Taimyr, Evenk, Koryak and Aginsky Buryat Autonomous Districts - ed.), They simply did not register a single initiative group that would like to campaign against. And the very vote on this issue was accompanied by massive falsifications.

Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expert Group, also supports this point of view:

- If we now conduct polls in those territories that have already become part of other subjects - among the Koryaks in Kamchatka, among the Buryats in Transbaikalia, it is unlikely that there will be great enthusiasm about the results, probably the result was not as positive as it is often thought ... Not only regional authorities, but also regional elites will certainly resist, because any association is the arrival of new masters, it is an opportunity to move the locals in favor of the newcomers. From the outside, there may be an invasion of not only officials, but even business may somehow feel pressure and, in fact, this is what the regions are dissatisfied with, saying that our country has already turned into a unitary, super-centralized state.

An unexpected twist: crushing is stability

We must not forget about the national question. Representatives of 160 nationalities live in Russia, and not all are ready to lose their identity, at least formally. And everyone wants to quietly occupy their lands - the redistribution of territories and the resettlement of entire peoples were enough even under Stalin ... Today, the presence of national republics is quite successfully solving the problem of national conflicts.

Konstantin Kalachev argues that the guarantee of Russia's stability lies in its fragmentation. Even the history of France, if the parallels are correctly drawn, confirms this thesis:

- The most painful issue is the national-territorial formations - for example, to propose to unite Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. Here it will directly explode and flare up in full. If we are talking about preserving the unity of Russia, then here the other way is the fragmentation of the regions. Actually, Napoleon began with this sometime, when, in order to eliminate the centers of separatism, he divided France into departments. Perhaps fragmentation would be more logical from the point of view of preventing risks and threats associated with regional and national separatism and the possibility of Russia's disintegration.

World experience and our own history of our country show that there is no need to confuse the administrative and economic boundaries of the regions: they work in completely different ways. So Alexander Kynev is sure that it would be more useful to go down the path of downsizing:

- We need to go not along the path of consolidation, but rather downsizing - we have too large subjects, such as the Krasnodar Territory. It consists of completely different parts - the resort Black Sea coast, with one economy, and the rest of the Kuban, absolutely agrarian, on the other. There are other contenders for downsizing, in my opinion - in general, all the huge regions of Siberia, which in the form in which they are, are really very poorly managed. The dissimilarity of territories, the fact that they are different, is not a disadvantage, it is a competitive advantage. Nobody needs the same territories, just as no one needs the same people.

In the process of development of agglomerations, of course, it would also be good not to go too far and not leave remote areas without people at all. Russia is big, and just copying the experience of other countries, where agglomerations can sometimes even intersect, is worth it with great caution. So far, the ideas of Russian officials are difficult to explain with any logic. Otherwise, if they were striving to build agglomerations, they would have acted using economic methods, and if they had fought against separatism and listened to the experts, they would have followed the path of disaggregating the territories. Now the opposite is happening.

The answer to the question "why?" we seem to have found the historian Vasily Klyuchevsky, who at the beginning of the last century noted: "Every society has the right to demand from the authorities:" Rule us so that we live comfortably". But the bureaucracy thinks differently: "No, you live in such a way that it is convenient for us to manage you".

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