In a sign of Siberia’s ever-worsening population crisis, regions are now being forced to consolidate in order to maintain a viable polity. RIA Novosti reports:
A new constituent member of the Russian Federation, the enlarged Irkutsk Region, came into existence on January 1, following the merger of two Siberian regions. Urged by the necessity to solve local social and economic tasks and improve living standards in East Siberia, legislators in the energy-rich Irkutsk Region and the largely agrarian Ust-Ordyn Buryat Autonomous Area submitted a merger proposal to the Russian president in October 2005. The idea was approved by the majority of votes at a referendum in April 2006. The enlarged Irkutsk Region will form its government within a year, starting from January 1, 2008. Local parliamentary elections are expected to be held October 12, 2008, and the Russian president will nominate a new governor within 35 days after the elections. Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the merger as part of the Kremlin’s ongoing campaign to simplify the country’s administrative-territorial divisions, and to further tighten federal control over budget spending and efficient governance in the regions.
Not sure this merger (or the similar ones that have taken place recently, or the one planned in March in Chita) has much to do with population decline at all – actually.
The population of the smaller territory (which was in any case already part of Irkutsk Oblast, and located within it, as well as being a “federal subject in its own right) has never been large – about 120,000, with the population of the largest town being not much more than 10,000.
In large part the reasons for the existence of the territory (which as an – extremely misleadingly named “Autonomous Okrug” – was at the bottom of the de facto hierarchy of types of regions that exist within Russia – date back to the Stalinist perception, circa 1937 that the (buddhist) Buryats and Mongols were perceived as potentially “counter-revolutionary”.
Consequently the ASSR they had previously controlled was divided, into the Buryat ASSR (the only large and substantive unit henceforth allocated to them) and two smaller, rural, and remote National (later “Autonomous”) Okrugs (with much of the territory around them allocated to the ethnically Russian oblasts of Irkutsk and Chita). The small population of these districts was thus intentional, even if their economic impoverishment (something shared by most of the autonomous okrugs in the federation) was not necessarily so.