President Vladimir Putin may soon put into practice his idea of reducing the number of Russian regions and Krasnoyarsk Krai, where Putin visited in the middle of March, may become the arena for the first attempt at applying it. On March 28, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed sent the region’s legislative assembly a draft law on creating a new Russian Federation subject, amalgamating the krai with two entities located on its territory but enjoying the status of independent Federation subjects–the Evenk and Taimyr autonomous districts. The Krasnoyarsk legislative assembly passed Lebed’s initiative (Russian agencies, March 28-29).
Experts believe the Krasnoyarsk legislative assembly’s passage of the initiative means that the two sides have ended their dispute, which left the krai without a budget for 2002. Some observers hope that another conflict will soon end–the one between Lebed and Taimyr Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, who had hoped to win Taimyr’s control over Norilsk, the giant Arctic industrial center, which is located on Taimyr’s territory but pays its taxes directly to the krai authorities. Putin’s trip to the region was apparently aimed at resolving this conflict. He appears to have resolved it in Lebed’s favor, given that following a meeting between the Russian president and Khloponin, the latter put forward ideas on amalgamating the region’s various territorial entities that were very much like Lebed’s plan (Polit.ru, March 28; see also the Monitor, March 26).
The speaker of Krasnoyarsk’s legislative assembly, Aleksandr Uss, underscored the legislature’s support for Lebed’s initiative, saying that the new law would create “a legal basis for the amalgamation of Federation subjects.” At the same time, Uss noted that such an amalgamation would be completed no earlier than 2005 (SMI.ru, March 28). Lebed himself conceded that the process would be complicated, but indicated he had no intention of backing away from it. “On March 22 the president of the country assigned me and the Taimyr governor the task of preparing before the end of April proposals for the creation of a single region…. That is not much time, and therefore I assigned the task to the council of the [krai’s] administration [and] signed corresponding letters to all the governors” (RIA Express, March 28).
But while Lebed and the krai legislators finally put aside their differences, his relations with the heads of the autonomous districts remain far more complicated. Thus, while Khloponin appears to have accepted Lebed’s plan, the Taimyr governor has put forward a number of conditions that raise doubts about whether he is really resigned to it being instituted. Various Russian media have interpreted Khloponin’s comments differently: some said that he reached an understanding with Lebed, while others said he had not. In reality, Khloponin’s comments were ambiguous. “I am convinced that it is necessary to carry out work for resolving the issue of amalgamation and I am ready to take an active part in that,” the Taimyr governor said. “However, I do not understand the actions of Lebed, who gives the council of the krai’s administration the go-ahead to prepare proposals for amalgamation and only after that informs the legislative assembly and the leadership of Taimyr and Evenk…. The creation of a new Russian Federation subject, according to current law, is a long, complicated and expensive process.” Therefore, Khloponin concluded, each of the three Federation subjects involved–Krasnoyarsk, Taimyr and Evenk–should first hold referendums (RIA Novosti, SMI.ru, March 28). More generally, the Taimyr governor’s formula is: “Norilsk is in Taimyr, Taimyr is in Krasnoyarsk Krai” (Gazeta.ru, March 28).
Evenk Governor Boris Zolotarev, whom Lebed and Khloponin have left on the sidelines, was much more openly critical of Lebed’s initiative, dismissing it as “another political demarche.” Zolotarev declared more generally: “Imagine two sick people. If you put them together, is that going to cure them? No way. Krasnoyarsk Krai has many problems of its own, Evenk [has] its own…. Money will not come from amalgamation. It is necessary first to deal with financial flows and interbudgetary relations and then agree on how to live further” (Gazeta.ru, March 28).
Khloponin and Zolotarev have been invited to Krasnoyarsk for initial negotiations on April 4-5, and these are unlikely to go smoothly. The main problem is that following their amalgamation with the krai, Taimyr and Evenk will lose funding that now comes to them as aid from the federal budget. These funds, it appears, will not be given to the krai. The sides will thus first calculate what finances will be left once they have merged into a single Russian Federation subject (NNS.ru, SMI.ru, March 28). If it turns out that the financial losses are excessively high, it is unlikely the amalgamation will take place. Even so, Lebed’s initiative strengthens his position for next year’s Krasnoyarsk scheduled gubernatorial election and strengthens his relations with Putin.
KOKH WITHDRAWS HIS FEDERATION COUNCIL CANDIDACY.