Abbas Gallyamov: 'The topic of enlarging the regions for the Kremlin died in the 2000s'
The well-known political expert about what lies behind the discussion about the consolidation of regions
One of the most discussed topics was the enlargement of the regions — the discussion was initiated by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who said that 85 regions for the country is a lot. Later, the official Kremlin said: Khusnullin's words are only his personal opinion, but in some cases, the consolidation of regions can be effective. Well-known political expert Abbas Gallyamov in the interview with Realnoe Vremya argues that the consolidation of the regions is not removed from the agenda of the government, but the effectiveness of the policy in relation to the regions should be sought in other measures.
“Overcentralisation has already led to the degradation of the country”
Since the Soviet era, Russia has maintained a system of divisions into republics, autonomous districts, regions, and territories. Under Vladimir Putin, the merger of some territories began to solve economic problems. Can we say that the Soviet system of division of the country no longer fully meets the current conditions of the functioning of the state and the consolidation of the country's subjects is really a way to a better life in a region?
The main thing that is required to solve the problems of the regions is not their consolidation, but a change in the model of relations between the centre and the regions. The current centralisation has already led to the complete degradation of regional governance systems, the degradation of regional political and administrative elites — nothing depends on these elites now: they just turned into people who have only the right to walk around Moscow offices with an outstretched hand and beg for alms for their regions, and they do not make any significant management decisions — Moscow has taken this right for itself.
Thus, the regions are drained of blood, and the same can be said about the current tax system — all the money is withdrawn from the regions, and then, at the will of the Moscow bosses, it is given back, and it is given only under some obligations, and the regions have no freedom of maneuver at all. It turns out that Moscow behaves as if it knows better what is done in the regions. And the regions are doing the same with the municipalities, and this over-centralisation with the pumping up of both finances and powers has already led to the degradation of the country. Now, if we draw an analogy with a person, Russia is a dystrophic person with a huge head, and it's time to bring the head in line with the rest of the body, that is, to decentralise the country.
It turns out that Moscow behaves as if it knows better what is done in the regions. And the regions do the same with the municipalities
How can the words of Marat Khusnullin be explained? To what extent can this still be the Kremlin's position, and not the deputy prime minister's opinion? After all, almost on the same day, our Tatarstan Deputy Oleg Morozov considered it a sound idea to unite Tula Oblast, Ryazan Oblast and Kaluga Oblast, and Morozov is one of the serious figures in the deputy corps.
Marat Khusnullin is responsible in the government for relations with the regions and understands that nothing can be changed — the system is degrading. Since Khusnullin is responsible for a certain area, there will theoretically be some demand from him at the top, but he cannot offer something that is required by reality, that is, the decentralisation I've mentioned, for political reasons. After all, offering President Putin decentralisation is admitting that the previous course of the president was wrong, it is necessary to move in the opposite direction. Putin will clearly not be happy about this: over-centralisation is still Putin's thing, and other officials have no right to criticise the trajectory of movement implemented by Putin.
It turns out that you can not criticise the course, and you can not offer an alternative, but, on the other hand, you can not be silent, because the situation is getting worse. Therefore, Khusnullin suggested at least changing something — to enlarge the regions, which Putin will definitely not object to. And if the reform is adopted, Khusnullin will not be asked much: after all, when a house is being built, builders are not asked much. The merger of the regions, if it is given the go-ahead — it is a few years of work, then it will take several years to wait for the result, respectively, Khusnullin will have years of respite.
But if the reform is not approved, then there will be no responsibility of the deputy prime minister, and Khusnullin can say: “My plan has been abandoned, what is your issue with me?" Therefore, the proposal of Marat Khusnullin is more of a technical nature and is put forward for apparatus reasons — not for political reasons.
It turns out that you can not criticise the course, and you can not offer an alternative, but, on the other hand, you can not be silent, because the situation is getting worse. Therefore, Khusnullin suggested at least changing something
In the mid-2000s, the consolidation was going actively: Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Okrug were merged into Perm Krai, Kamchatka and Koryak Okrug were merged into Kamchatka Krai, and the Aginsky Okrug, Buryat Okrug and Chita Oblast were merged into Zabaykalsky Krai. But then, suddenly, it stopped abruptly. What happened?
The Kremlin saw that it was a meaningless and useless thing. They realised that the merger of the regions did not change anything economically. Then, in the 2000s, Putin still played the reformer and did not turn into a conservative, as now, and decided to try — it looked like a safe story, let's expand some subjects, and the people were all the more waiting for some reforms. But after trying it, the Kremlin saw that the consolidation of the regions did not give any result.
Then Putin became a more conservative leader — he almost did not want to change anything. He began to believe that his model of governing the country had developed. Now, within the framework of this model, it is necessary to deal only with the current work — to supply ambulances to hospitals, organise repairs in feldsher-midwife stations, and so on. And that's why, in my opinion, this topic died for the Kremlin in the 2000s. Yes, now it has been revived, so to speak, because the elites and, of course, the people have a feeling and understanding that something needs to be changed in the country, that we are moving in the wrong direction, because the economic situation is getting worse. Besides, the idea of enlarging the regions is relatively safe for the agenda.
Putin remembers how all these claims of the regions to each other turned into a real nightmare for the USSR — interethnic conflicts, wars, massacres, so he will not risk in a matter like this
“Putin does not want to take risks with ethnic republics”
In one of the recent materials on the topic of merging regions, I read the opinion that the federal government will never go to the merger of ethnic republics (for example, Tatarstan or Bashkiria) with some weak neighbouring regions. Why? And how sensible is that?
I also think that the Kremlin will not take such a step. Putin does not want to take risks with ethnic republics, because the president is very cautious about the ethnic issue — he has a noticeable “birth trauma” associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin remembers how all these claims of the regions to each other turned into a real nightmare for the USSR — interethnic conflicts, wars, massacres, so he will not risk in a matter like this.
Probably, the fact that at one time it failed to annex the Republic of Gorny Altai to the Altai Krai and to Adygea with Krasnodar Krai... Is there evidence that Putin took into account the discontent of people from the ethnic republics?
Of course, he did it — it was still an unpredictable story: in the republics, discontented people could take to the streets, they could start living in tents, walking with posters around administrative buildings. Why would the Kremlin create a problem out of the blue? Besides, then, as the authorities weaken, all this, as you know, ends in territorial claims and wars — our people can be fervent. Therefore, the Kremlin and Putin understand this. The Nenets Okrug is also an example of this — the authorities once even tried to put pressure on people there, but they realised that the consequences could be too dangerous and unpredictable.
Last year, there was a certain “coronavirus federalisation”, when the centre was somewhat confused due to the pandemic and therefore transferred some of the powers in terms of implementing the anti-covid policy to the regions, but, again, these were force majeure circumstances
“Moscow did not give the regions a fishing rod to catch fish, but the fish itself, so there is no change in sight”
Do you see, perhaps, some outlined movements of the Kremlin in the direction of federalism?
No, I don't see that. Yes, last year, there was a certain “coronavirus federalisation”, when the centre was somewhat confused due to the pandemic and therefore transferred some of the powers in terms of implementing the anti-covid policy to the regions, but, again, these were force majeure circumstances: The Kremlin was confused and didn't understand what to do.
Since then, if we take the topic of coronavirus out of the brackets, federalisation has not gone anywhere — yes, there was a message from Putin on April 21, in which the topic of regions was voiced, but it all looked like Moscow was distributing some gifts. Moscow did not give the regions a fishing rod to catch fish, but the fish itself, so there is no change in sight.
Naturally, ideas will be born. And I think that political forces — both systemic and non-systemic — will propose decentralisation
Will the problems of federalisation somehow increase in the large political environment?
They will. Again, many people have a growing feeling that something needs to be done, because nothing can be done anymore. Naturally, ideas will be born. And I think that political forces — both systemic and non-systemic — will propose decentralisation.
As we've recently learned, the New People party has formed an electoral alliance with the former mayor of Yakutsk, Sardana Avksentieva. Not just formed — the representatives of the party said that the topic of territories itself will be key in the upcoming election campaign. Besides, the leader of the party, Alexey Nechaev, announced that it was necessary to decentralise, return part of the taxes to the regions. This party is systemic, they can speak more freely than, for example, Marat Khusnullin. Thus, we see that the idea of decentralisation is sprouting. Can the topic of decentralisation be at the centre of the agenda? It can, if the New People, as they say, use the theme. By the way, due to this, the party can get a large percentage in the outback, squeezing the old parties, and after the elections, the issue of decentralisation can be put on the federal agenda.
Therefore, I think that there is a chance that the regional topic is important for the coming years on the federal agenda. Remember, the Khabarovsk protest against Moscow was very serious, which means that there is something to talk about at the federal level. Of course, there are forces among the parties and among officials who believe that the “sacred cow” of the Kremlin, which is centralisation, cannot be attacked, which means that we will still see calls for pseudo-reforms such as the consolidation of regions.