Merger talks in two Russian regions | Polarjournal
Alexander Tsybulskij, acting governor of the Arkhangelsk region (left) and Yuriy Bezdudny, acting governor of the Nenets Autonomous Region (right), at the meeting in the city of Naryan-Mar, where they signed a memorandum of understanding on the merging of their two regions. (Image: Government of Arkhangelsk Oblast)

The Arkhangelsk region and the Nenets Autonomous District (NAO) in Russia’s northwestern Arctic announced in joint press releases that they were planning a merger. The economic situation in the NAO has been described as “catastrophic” as COVID-19 continues to ensure that the oil industry bottoms out and a merger would allow them to respond better to the economic crisis.

Reindeer herder family of the Nenets in the Tundra near Naryan-Mar, the capital of the Nenets Okrug. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen)

‘Standing on the edge of a financial abyss’.

Ninety percent of the NAO’s budget depends on oil prices, and with the pandemic and local epidemic not ending, merging into a single entity could be an economic buffer, governments said.

“In the context of the developing international economic crisis, there is basically no chance that a miracle can happen,” said Yuri Bezdudny, acting governor of the NAO. The NAO’s budget was calculated at oil prices of USD 57 per barrel. At current oil prices of around US25 US dollars per barrel, he said the NAO was “on the verge of a financial abyss” and could probably only make it until July 1, 2020, before budget constraints would affect services.

The administrative building of the Nenets Okrug in Naryan-Mar. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen)

Will the merger attract investment?

The acting governor of the Arkhangelsk region, Alexander Tsybulsky, said that the unification of the two regions would improve the prospects for the development of the Arctic in the long term.

“We will be able to get completely different development opportunities with the NAO, together we can attract greater investment – both public and private.

A memorandum of understanding was signed in Naryan-Mar, the NAO’s administrative centre. The press release stated that working groups had been set up and that there would be public consultations and a referendum before the merger.

The population of the Autonomous Region of the Nenets is about 44,000. It already has several administrative links with the Arkhangelsk area, which has a population of about 1.1 million.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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