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Problems springing up in the way of Moscow City’s enlargement

June 22, 2012, 16:30 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

More and more problems are springing up in the way of an ambitious project to enlarge the territory of Moscow City through transferring to it a big enough slice of the lands currently controlled by the Moscow region authorities.

Deputies of the Moscow regional Duma staged a demarche and refused to vote for the plan that was endorsed last year by Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev.

In theory, the original plan should not have triggered any major legal controversies but experts do not rule out now that the Greater Moscow project will be revised eventually, especially considering the fact that the newly appointed Governor of Moscow region, Sergei Shoigu feels reluctant to conceal his displeasure with the city territory’s expansion ideas.

Moscow regional Duma deputies have refused to introduce amendments in the region’s Charter that would align it with an agreement on the changes of administrative borders between Moscow City and Moscow region. The agreement is due to take full legal effect July 1. Only 21 members of the 50-strong regional legislature supported the project and nine deputies from the factions representing political opposition spoke out against it.

The bill rejected by the legislature introduced adjustments in the concept of Moscow region’s boundaries and stipulated the procedures for changing them. No less than one-third of the regional Duma’s legislators were reluctant to vote in favor of the enlargement plan so that it would take legal effect.

It was President Dmitry Medvedev who initiated the enlargement project in June 2011 and the Federation Council, the upper house of the federal parliament approved a resolution on changing the borders between the two constituents of the Russian Federation.

Earlier, the Moscow City Duma and the regional Duma approved an agreement between Moscow City Mayor and the region’s Governor, under the provisions of which the city’s territory is to encompass an extra 160,000 hectares of land and will thus increase by a factor of more than 2.4.

Now the legislators who voted against the bill claim that the transition of land areas to the city’s jurisdiction was effectuated with blatant encroachments on legislation.

Konstantin Cheremisov, the head of the Communist faction in the regional Duma said the legislators representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation /CPRF/ do not object to expansion of the city’s territory “within reasonable limits” but they do not agree to a redrawing of the administrative borders merely for the sake of relocating the headquarters of federal agencies of power.

Some of these agencies could simply move from the city to the region – and bring supplementary investors with them who would pay more taxes to the regional budget.

“In this case, all the imaginable laws have been violated,” Cheremisov said, adding that the legal departments of the gubernatorial administration and the regional Duma submitted derogatory conclusions on the agreement that was “pressed forward with at the Federation Council.”

Denist Lebedev, a legislator representing a Just Russia party described the legal act on the merger of a part of the region’s territory with Moscow City as a “half-baked” document.

Mikhail Andreyev, the plenipotentiary representative of the regional government in the Duma said he is confident the legislators’ demarche will not affect the plans for creating the Greater Moscow.

He recalled that the decision on enlargement has been endorsed by the Federation Council and has the force of a law.

“The thing is some ladies and gentlemen rushed to inform the public on an ostensibly budding conflict, even though there’s not a single pretext for it,” Anjdreyev said.

Regional Duma speaker Igor Bryntsalov shares his opinion. “These are just technical amendments, since the basic law has long been adopted and signed by the Russian President,” he said.

Experts, however, do not rule out the possibility of a revision of the plans for setting up the Greater Moscow, all the more so that the incumbent Governor of the region, Sergei Shoigu does not make a secret of his discontent with the expansion plans.

He said Thursday they that “Russia’s capital should be moved to a different place, indeed, and this transition should be profound and essential.”

“The capital should be moved either to the Urals or to Siberia because we have a huge country and we must develop other territories, too,” Shoigu said.

“If we really do relocation then we must get several new capitals – a business capital, and financial capital and the political capital,” he said.

Yevgeny Minchenko, the director of the Institute of Political Expert Studies told the Kommersant daily he admits a possible scrapping of the decision on the expansion of borders.

“We really have many questions, and especially about the strange positioning /of administrative objects – Itar-Tass/ on the map,” he said. If the data available now is true, the relocations will only aggravate the transport load on the infrastructure.

Minchenko does not rule out that lobbying of a cancellation of the Greater Moscow project has begun.

“As for the lobbyist pressure, it’s absolutely clear some specific people were extremely interested in having their lands bought out by the state but now the balance of influences has changed and the very same Sergei Shoigu is strongly interested in preventing the territories entrusted to him from shrinkage,” he said.

Andrei Makarkin, a vice president of the Center for Political Technologies has doubts about the regional legislators’ willingness to disrupt the expansion of Moscow. “They are simply bargaining for compensation,” Izvestia daily quotes him as saying.

Makarkin believes that Vladimir Putin, who returned to the Kremlin in the capacity of the President, was not the author of the project and that is why the Moscow region authorities are now trying to make out the degree, to which the project is important for him.

Various sources have indicated in the past, too, that Putin is not an ardent supporter of moving the governmental machinery outside the current boundaries of Moscow.

“The officials’ relocation hasn’t received full-scale support among the country’s leaders and many signals were indicative of this already last year,” says political researcher Mikhail Vinogradov. “Sweeping redecoration works in the /governmental offices/ on Staraya Square and in the Kremlin began already after Medvedev had voiced the idea of moving out of the Kremlin.”

“Putin doesn’t want to leave because the Kremlin is a sacral place for him, a person out of a different epoch, while confining the relocations to governmental bureaucrats only would look like a strange step – something that would be highly unpopular among the officialdom and difficult to explain to the population.”

“Dmitry Medvedev, on his part, is hurrying to epitomize the few reforms that are connected with his name,” Vinogradov said.

In any case, most experts have doubts about the possibility of fitting a project as momentous as this one into the initially indicated time brackets.

“All the talk about full re-settlement within two or three years is nonsensical,” the Vedomosti daily quotes a high-rank governmental official. “What relocation can there be if the construction of buildings, infrastructure and housing facilities will cost a minimum of one trillion rubles?”

“That’s too big a burden for the federal budget,” the official believes.

At the current exchange rate, US $ 1 is equivalent of 33.0 Russian rubles.

MOSCOW, June 22