Vignette 8.2 The New and Old Regional Units of the Russian Federation

Russia, like the United States, is a federation of regional units. They are called “subjects of federation,” not “states,” but the idea behind them is similar: Each has its own governor, legislature, flag and seal, borders, and so on. Overall there were 89 subjects of federation in 2000, but only 83 in 2010, including 21 autonomous republics, 4 autonomous okrugs, 46 oblasts, 9 krays, 1 autonomous oblast, and 2 federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg). Each region has proportional representation in the federal Duma and two delegates each in the Federation Council. Regional governors were mostly elected by a popular vote until 2004, when they began to be appointed by the Kremlin.

From the Putin administration's standpoint, the situation with the regions was untenable. The idea of rebuilding the vertical structure of power began to take shape when Putin created a system of seven federal districts into which all 89 units were grouped in 2000. Each district received a personal envoy appointed by the president. Each envoy was given hundreds of staff members, a generous budget, and an imperative to promote the presidential agenda in the regions and to serve as a liaison between the Kremlin and the regional elites. The bloody siege of the school in Beslan on September 1, 2004, was used as a pretext to move farther toward abolishing governors' elections in all regions; eliminating independent delegates and permitting only party-affiliated delegates to run in the parliamentary elections; and removing some obstinate governors from their posts. The political map underwent some changes as well. Specifically, in 2005–2007 three autonomous okrugs (Komi-Permyak, Koryaksky, and Aga-Buryat) were merged with nearby oblasts (Perm, Kamchatsky, and Irkutsk, respectively). A year later, two more okrugs were merged into Krasnoyarsky Kray, and another okrug into Chitinskaya Oblast.
More such mergers are planned in the future. Pre-Communist Russia was much larger, and it had only 30 regions. Larger regions are deemed more efficient and are easier to control from Moscow.

The map in Figure 8.3 depicts the regions as they exist in 2010. Table 8.3 details which oblasts and republics are included in which federal districts, as well as the 11 economic regions used for reporting during the Soviet and Yeltsin periods. Those were purely statistical units used for reporting aggregate economic data. The new seven districts are political units, but many aggregate data are now reported by these districts instead of by the old 11 units. Note that while there is a lot of overlap, these are not at all identical lists. One thing that has not yet happened is the actual redrawing of any internal or external borders of the subjects of federation. When two subjects merge, their shared border disappears, but no changes are made to the external borders. At least something stays the same!