Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 60

President Vladimir Putin has intervened in the dispute between Krasnoyarsk Krai and the Taimyr (Dolgan-Nenetsk) Autonomous District, which has been worsening in recent months. The dispute involves the status of Norilsk, the largest industrial center of Russia’s Arctic region and the location of the country’s largest metallurgical complex. During a visit to Krasnoyarsk Krai on March 22, Putin became a de facto mediator in the dispute and put forward his ideas for resolving it (Russian agencies, March 21-23).

The current situation in Krasnoyarsk is the result of the peculiarities of Russia’s territorial system, which has allowed one Federation subject to exist on the territory of another. The Taimyr Autonomous District, while an independent Russian Federation subject, is part of Krasnoyarsk Krai. Norilsk, meanwhile, is located on Taimyr’s territory but is directly subordinated to Krasnoyarsk Krai and pays taxes to it. Taimyr has tried to change this state of affairs. The Krasnoyarsk Krai leadership, however, has actively opposed it–reasoning that the krai budget would collapse without tax payments from the Norilsk Mining Company, the largest taxpayer in the region (see the Monitor, February 12, March 19).

Putin began his trip to the region in Norilsk, where he visited several local enterprises, in keeping with the officially stated goals of the journey–to examine “the labor conditions and the life of the local population” (Russian agencies, March 22). Few observers, however, took the official explanation seriously, and many suggested at the start of the president’s trip that his real purpose was to intervene in the conflict between Taimyr and Krasnoyarsk (Kommersant, March 22). Much attention was given to Putin’s confidential meeting with Taimyr Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, the exact content of which has not been revealed (Polit.ru, March 22).

It is worth noting that, according to Kremlin sources, officials of the presidential administration had urged Putin not to get personally involved in the territorial conflict. Putin, however, promised Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed that he would visit “the field of battle” and refused to cancel his trip (Kommersant, March 22). This fact alone already indicated whose side the president planned to take. It would appear that during his meeting with the Taimyr governor, Putin made it clear that support from the Kremlin would not be forthcoming. In any case, after speaking with Putin, Khloponin suddenly and significantly softened his position. Taimyr had threatened to break off from Krasnoyarsk. Now Khloponin spoke even of the possibility of liquidating the autonomous district and merging it with the krai to form a single federation subject to include the Evenk Autonomous District, which is also located on the krai’s territory (SMI.ru, March 22). “Norilsk is in Taimyr, Taimyr is in Krasnoyarsk Krai,” Khloponin declared, adding that Putin should not be “dragged into” the dispute between Krasnoyarsk Krai and Taimyr (Polit.ru, March 22). There is, however, an element of trickery in this position. If a presidential decree is enough to transfer Norilsk to the district, to then liquidate the district would require that the constitution be changed (because it cites the full list of Federation subjects).

Putin spoke as if the issue was settled, declaring simply that “inter-budgetary relations” were to blame and that these issues could be resolved this year (NNS.ru, March 22). It would appear that Putin is not against making Krasnoyarsk Krai, which is tired of battling with the Taimyr and Evenk Autonomous Districts, the subject of an experiment in lessening the number of Russian Federation subjects by means of amalgamating them. But neither is he rushing to reveal the method by which this can be put into action.

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