Merger of Russian Arctic regions into territory as big as Scandinavia sparks controversy

Arkhangelsk will be the most powerful part of the proposed new region. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)
A proposed merger of regions in northern Russia spurs controversy in the small and oil-rich Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Some want also the Komi Republic to be part of the new super-size region.

Discussions have run high among locals in northern Russia ever since the regional leaders of Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets Okrug in mid-May signed a memorandum on their merger.

Arkhangelsk Acting Governor Aleksandr Tsybulsky and Acting Head of the Nenets AO Yuri Bezdydny argue that economic realities necessitate a merger of the two neighboring territories.

The two men, who previously were respectively head and deputy head of the Nenets AO, say that the drop of the oil prize has created a “catastrophic” situation in the small and oil-rich region.

Alexander Tsybulsky, acting governor of Arkhangelsk Oblast (left) and Yury Bezdudny, acting governor of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (right) ,at the meeting on Wednesday (May 13) in the city of Naryan-Mar where they signed a memorandum of understanding on merging their two regions. (Government of Arkhangelsk Oblast)
Local opposition

But most locals in the Nenets AO are highly skeptical towards a merger with the far bigger and much poorer Arkhangelsk Oblast.

While the more than 1,1 million population of Arkhangelsk have an average salary of less than 40.000 rubles, the 45 thousand people of Nenets make more than 75.000

A local working group set up in the Nenets AO to elaborate on the proposed reform admit that there is “an extremely negative attitude” among locals towards the idea of a new regional entity.

Inclusion of Komi

The working group is to deliver input to a new joint commission managed by representatives of both regions, the regional government informs. Among that input is the inclusion in the merger not only of Arkhangelsk and the Nenets AO, but also of the Komi Republic.

“The three northern regions are inter-connected historically, geographically and in terms of infrastructure,” says working group leader and member of the regional Nenets legislative assembly Matvey Chuprov.”

“It would allow us to develop large-scale projects and bring the regions closer together through our joint interests,” he told news agency TASS.

However, the Komi Republic is unlikely to join voluntarily. Head of the Komi Republic Vladimir Uyba quickly responded negatively to the proposal.

“I am against such hasty action,” he told the media. He underlines that the initiative must come from below, and be based in a mutual decision by people in all the regions, RBC reports.

Map of administrative divisions and borders of Russia with Arkhangelsk oblast highlighted. If the new merged region was to include Arkhangelsk, Nenets AO, as well as Komi, it would have a territory comparable with the whole of Scandinavia. (iStock)
Large territory, few people

If the new merged region was to include Arkhangelsk, Nenets AO, as well as Komi, it would have a territory comparable with the whole of Scandinavia. Its population would be about 2 million compared to the about 27 millions of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Also representatives of the indigenous peoples in the area have voiced their opposition towards the proposed merger. In an open letter to Acting Nenets AO leader Bezdydny, the Nenets people’s association Yasavey expresses its strong disagreement.

The association disputes the alleged catastrophic situation in the Nenets economy and underlines that the proposed merger with Arkhangelsk has shocked the local population and created “indignation and resentment.”

Yasavey points at the fact that similar plans for a merger of the two regions were actively discussed in the 2000s, but then negotiations ultimately collapsed. The organization’s letter to the regional government is made available by Arctic Consult.

“In the light of the significance of the question, its risks and consequences, we consider it undesirable to conduct further experiments with the NAO that will not lead to an improved social and economic situation among people.”

Related stories around the North:

Canada: More than 100 people refused entry to Canada’s North under COVID-19 travel bans, CBC News

China: Gazprom to build new pipelines between Arctic Russia and China, The Independent Barents Observer

Denmark: COVID-19 could delay Kingdom of Denmark’s Arctic strategy, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education?, Eye on the Arctic – Special report

Iceland: Iceland, Estonia talk Arctic at Tallinn meeting, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Northern Norway merger overwhelmingly rejected in regional referendum, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: “Catastrophic” economic situation prompts merger talks for two Russian regions in Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Why residents of northern Finland pushed back against border closure with Sweden, Yle News

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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