Merger plans in Russian Arctic face opposition | Polarjournal
The merger intention of the two companions and governors Tsybulskij (left) and Bezdydny (right) has received a dampener. The two heads of government are old acquaintances. Before his appointment as governor of the Arkhangelsk region, Tsybulskij was the governor of the Nenets region and Jurji Bezdydny his deputy. Photo: Government of Arkhangelsk Oblast

The Russian Arctic region of Arkhangelsk and the eastern Autonomous District of the Nenets are both struggling with the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The smaller district of the Nenets in particular has been financially grounded since the price of oil is in free fall. As a result, the two governors of the territories signed a memorandum of understanding on the merger less than a week ago. But the plans meet large opposition, especially among the Nenets people.

Many of the nearly 44,000 inhabitants of the approximately three times smaller Autonomous District of the Nenets (ADN) are very skeptical about the idea of a merger with the larger neighbor. Although the district is much smaller in terms of area and population, it is in a better economic position. Oil and gas production along the coast has turned the region into a small regional economic power. The difference in earnings from the approximately 1.2 million inhabitants of the Arkhangelsk region is almost double. As a result, many Nenets believe that the merger will have an even more negative economic impact. The two governors disagree, arguing that the economic reality of the collapse in oil prices makes it essential for the two regions to merge, especially for the Nenets region

The Nenets originally are a nomadic and reindeer herding people. The Soviets forced them to sedentary. In their Autonomous District, they are a minority, but they have a decisive influence on politics. Photo: Sergeyvladpopov – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The representatives of the indigenous Nenets people, which accounts for only 13 percent of the total population, also warn against the merger of the two regions. In an open letter to Governor Bezdydny, they contradict the regional administration’s image of the county’s economic situation, calling the government’s plans “a shock to the population” and that they had led to outrage and bitterness. They go on saying that a similar project 20 years ago had not had a chance and is now bad for the region. “Given the importance of this question, its risks and consequences, we consider it undesirable to undertake further experiments with the ADN that do not lead to an improved social and economic situation of the population,” the letter concludes.

The Arkhangelsk region and the Autonomous District of the Nenets are located on the White Sea and each has a different federation status within Russia. Together with the Republic of Komi, they comprise an area as large as Scandinavia, but with only 2 instead of 27 million inhabitants.

Further fuel into the discussion was the idea by a working group of the regional administration of the ADN to incorporate the Republic of Komi into the merger plans. “The three northern regions are connected historically, geographically and infrastructurally,” explains Matvey Chuprov, head of the working group. “It would allow us to implement large-scale projects more easily and to bring the regions closer through our common interests.” The Republic of Komi, located southeast of Arkhangelsk, is similar in population size to the Arkhangelsk area, but about a third smaller in area. Economically, Komi is also stronger due to mineral resources such as gold, oil and wood. Within the Russian Federation, the Republic enjoys a broad degree of autonomy, unlike the other two regions. Thus, the head of the Komi government, Vladimir Uyba, immediately rejected the merger idea. “I am against such a quick action,” he told the media. In his opinion, such an initiative must be desired by the people and must be based on a common decision of all the people in the regions. However, this is obviously not the case, at least not with the Nenets. However, the people in the Autonomous District of the Nenets have the opportunity to send these plans down the drain on 13 September. Also, a statement from the central government in Moscow is still pending.

Source: The Independent Barents Observer / Russian Broadcast Corp. / TASS

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