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Transbaikal Requiem for a Dream

Minus for minus is not always a plus. The unification of the Chita region and the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous District did not lead to the prosperity of Transbaikalia.

Thirteen years ago, a new region appeared on the map of the Russian Federation - the Trans-Baikal Territory, which united the Chita Region and the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous District. The term is more than serious and today it is possible to sum up some results without any emotions and discounts on political correctness.

Transbaikal Requiem for a Dream
Photo: EastRussia

The very division into regions for residents of the Chita region and ABAO seemed artificial. Ordinary people continued to exist in the same geographic and economic space.
“Many Transbaikal residents frankly did not understand why the referendums were needed, because in many ways the Chita region and the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous Okrug were one,” says the Chita political scientist Roman Ampleev, “for example, the residents of the okrug voted in the elections for the governor of the Chita region and deputies of the regional Duma, in which the residents of the district had their representatives. The Charter of the Chita Region stated that the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous Okrug is part of the Chita Region. "

But the trouble was that the conditions in the regions were different. The Aginsky District was a kind of "Siberian Cyprus", an offshore zone in which many large Russian enterprises and taxpayers were registered. For a long time, both during the preparation of the unification referendum and after it, it was said that the main reason for the consolidation of the region was the liquidation of the Aginsk offshore company. Alexey Koshelev strongly disagrees with this statement, who in the first regional government in the period from 2008 to 2013 served as deputy chairman of the government of the Trans-Baikal Territory:

“Moscow nailed the offshore company in Aginskoye two years before the merger. The balance of money in the accounts was enough only until 2008. And the social networks in the district have been built so much that the Agin residents categorically did not have enough of their own money. So the impoverished Chita region had to share, ”says Alexei Koshelev.

During the preparation of the unification referendum, much was said about the prospects for the future of the region. One of the main "enticements" was the promise to send a cash flow of 700 billion rubles to the future Trans-Baikal Territory. On behalf of the federal authorities in 2006, he was voiced by the chief federal inspector for the Chita region, Valery Popov. According to him, 10 years after the merger (that is, by 2018 - author's note). The Trans-Baikal Territory will become the richest constituent entity of the Russian Federation in Siberia, a donor region, and its economic development will become the largest project in the country.

 “I don’t know who promised what, but the merger with ABAO cost the Chita region about 600 million rubles a year at that time,” recalls Alexei Koshelev. - And 700 billion investments, I think, are typical pre-election promises! No more. There was a separate presidential decree: “encouragement for unification”, but about two billion were allocated there for social facilities. They built Megapolis-Sport, a psychiatric hospital, an oncology center and something else, I don't remember now. That's all".

After the unification of the regions, a project for the development of the southeast of the Trans-Baikal Territory was heard for several years, according to which five mining and processing plants, the Naryn-Lugokan railway line and much more were to be built. But…

“With promises, I think, they have gathered together all the plans, and the plans are clearly impracticable, for the development of four mines in the southeast, Udokan (industrial development began only in 2020 - author's note), the pulp and paper mill, the Mogoytuiskaya industrial zone space project ... We collected all this, drew a beautiful large figure to amaze the people! There was little to do with reality. At the exit, only one Bystrinsky GOK was opened, - says Aleksey Koshelev and concludes his answer with the question: - If you put together two poor regions, how can you get rich here?

I agree with Koshelev and political scientist Ampleev:

“The campaign materials, of which there were a great many, told about the prospects of the new entity, the main emphasis was placed on financial support and investments from the federal center. There was a clear hint to voters that in a maximum of ten years the region would cease to be subsidized. Some Transbaikal residents remember these promises to this day. And from the failure to fulfill these promises there is disappointment and fatigue. People say so, they say, they talked about the construction of as many as five mining and processing plants, and only one was built - Bystrinsky.

The rich region did not work out. Both the Chita region and the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous Okrug were subsidized regions before the unification, and the Trans-Baikal Territory remains as such. By 2018, he did not become a donor region, but relocated from the Siberian to the Far Eastern Federal District. Naturally, this did not happen from a good life.

The professor of the Department of International Law and International Relations of ZabGU, Associate Professor, Doctor of Philosophy Dmitry Anatolyevich Krylova says about how much it was necessary to unite the regions and whether it is possible today to talk about the goals that were set before the start of the process as achieved:

“The problem can be considered in the aspect of consolidation and unbundling of administrative units. It has been known since Soviet times and is associated with the administrative-command approach to the management of territories. The idea is periodically voiced in Moscow: to stop playing at the notorious federalism and return to the unitary system of administrative division of the country. The prologue to this was the refusal of the election of governors in due time, but then they returned to this. Naturally, in the form of a "vertical of power" and an exaggerated role of the country's president. Today Russia is an asymmetric federation. There is such a term. Tight control from above has a bad effect on the regions' opportunities for their development ”.

“Now about the experience that we have. In 2008, the Trans-Baikal Territory was created. The Chita region absorbed ABAO, by that time a more successful subject of the federation. As a result, we got only unresolved problems and a lack of development prospects, which, as it sounds strange, but the national education had. Today there are, as it were, two ideas: "external management of backward regions, which should be carried out by state corporations" and "joining of weak territories to more successful ones." Zabkrai and Buryatia are proposed to be considered as part of the Irkutsk region. Of course, no one is talking about federal relations, ”says Dmitry Anatolyevich.

"And if you fantasize a little: if everything remained as it was - the Chita region and ABAO with its offshore status?"

“Do you remember that the union was pushed through? The same Kobzon and Zhamsuev were categorically against. It was through Kobzon that all the garters went and the participants had a direct economic interest. In the future, the district could completely refuse subsidies to its budget from Moscow. The ABAO had potential, but they were promised a mythical "special status", and the habit of obeying the bosses and elders of the clan played a cruel joke with the Aginchans. Until now, I am amused by the status of the city near Aginsk, whose residents have lost the benefits that are due to those living in the countryside. It was then that the fate of the Industrial Zone in Mogoytui was decided, which today presents a sad spectacle, - says Professor Krylov, - thirteen years have passed since the unification of the regions, but the question of the special status of the Aginsky Buryat Okrug is still not closed. During the preparation of the unification referendum, there was a lot of talk about this and, in fact, only after promising to receive a special status did the Agin residents agree to vote “for”. Initially, the constituency wanted to vote against.

Ampleev says about the absence of a law on the special status of the district:

“There remains one more important question - whether the regional law will be adopted, concretizing the special status of the Aginsky Buryat Okrug within Transbaikalia. This issue of special status was put to a referendum in 2007, then it was discussed at the meetings of the Commission on the development of the draft charter of the region, but there is no separate law yet ”.

And apparently, they will not return to it soon. In any case, today there are no progress or hints. But the Agin residents themselves do not remember the promised special status yet.

Most ordinary Transbaikal residents today no longer remember the unification of the regions in 2008, and many schoolchildren and students do not know about it at all. Probably, today it is not worth remembering about past promises, goals, projects, and it is necessary to move forward?

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