The Kremlin last week made some changes in the way the country’s armed forces are organized at the regional level. As of August 22, the Volga military district ceased to exist as a separate military-territorial division and was merged with the Urals military district to form a joint Volga-Urals military district. This marks a return to the arrangement that existed during the Soviet period (Russian agencies, August 23). Vladislav Putilin, head of the main organizational-mobilization department of the Armed Forces’ General Staff, said that the merger of the military districts would have little impact on the military units. It was merely a question, he said, of putting in order the system of the control organs (NNS.ru, August 23). General-Colonel Aleksandr Baranov was introduced as the commander of the new amalgamated military-administrative district. He said that, as of August 15, orders to the units of both districts would come from Yekaterinburg (which earlier was the center of the Urals military district), but that the two districts would not be united completely until September 1, when the appropriate order will be issued by the minister of defense (Regions.ru, August 23). According to official sources, the main goal of the merger of the two military districts is to strengthen “the Central Asian strategic direction.” This is said to be largely connected to growing tensions in that region, including the situation in Afghanistan and the increasing activity of radical Islamic groups in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (Polit.ru, August 23).
Some observers have put forward other possible reasons for the change. In particular, it is worth recalling that the capital of Volga military district was located in Samara, and that Samara Oblast is headed by Konstantin Titov, who unsuccessfully challenged Vladimir Putin in last year’s presidential election. After Putin’s victory, the coordination centers for the large number of federal institutions located in Samara were withdrawn from the city. This means that Samara has been stripped of its status as unofficial capital of the Volga region and that this status now belongs to Nizhny Novgorod, the official capital of Volga federal district.
Many politicians in the Urals federal district point out, moreover, that the creation of the Volga federal district split the “Bolshoi Ural” (Greater Urals) association of economic cooperation of the oblasts and republics of the Urals region. This is headed by Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel–one of Russia’s most independent regional leaders (Delovoi Ural, August 23). According to some observers, the Kremlin may have used the opportunity presented by the merger of the Volga and Urals military districts in order to take Titov down another peg.
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