By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin’s plan to eliminate all “matryoshka” autonomies has stalled at the political level. Nevertheless, Moscow is using a reorganization of its oil and gas agency to downgrade the status of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District (AD) and the Yamalo-Nenets AD, which are surrounded by the larger Tyumen Oblast. Indeed, according to Larisa Rychkova, a URA.ru analyst, “for Moscow, the ‘Tyumen matryoshka’ no longer exists.” Yet, what is “unprecedented” about all this, she argues, is that this latest move also represents “a terrible threat” to Tyumen because it means that Russia’s real “oil capital” will be Yekaterinburg rather than in any of the aforementioned three (ura.ru/content/tumen/26-11-2013/articles/1036260799.html).
Last week, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology announced that by April 2014 it will divide the country into 11 districts that Rosnedr, the federal agency that oversees oil and gas extraction, will use in place of its offices in federal subjects. While this may appear to outsiders as a simple act of bureaucratic housekeeping, the three governors of the Tyumen “matryoshka” immediately recognized its political consequences and are opposing it behind the scenes.
The three saw this move by Moscow as a threat to their prerogatives and power because it would concentrate control over the most important part of their economies even though they are far more important producers than Yekaterinburg, where the new office would be located. Indeed, last year, the three produced 50 percent of Russia’s oil and 90 percent of Russia’s gas, giving them the kind of economic clout that for five years has blocked Putin’s plan to combine them into a single federal subject.
But now, the Kremlin, by depriving the three federal subjects of their longstanding role in the management of this sector, will force all three governors to go to Yekaterinburg. The latter will handle all the lucrative auctions in this sector. And the three “matryoshka” units will be so weakened that Moscow may finally be able to combine them—but in such a weakened state that even the Tyumen leadership will remain opposed to such a step.
According to URA.ru’s Rychkova, this “reform” was dreamed up in Moscow in order to ensure that “the ‘Tyumen matryoshka’ [...] will lose its status as the chief oil and gas province of Russia.” Such a step will allow Moscow to further centralize power and weaken the federal subjects involved “by using the logic of an imperial bureaucracy” and appointing someone to oversee Moscow’s interests “who does not have any connection” with the sector over which he is nominally in charge.