Kremlin Backs Petersburg-Region Merger

The Kremlin has tentatively backed a proposal by St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko to merge the city and the surrounding Leningrad region into a single administrative entity.

Matviyenko held talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin earlier this month and "thinks she has received the go-ahead to develop the plans," a source close to the St. Petersburg governor said, Vedomosti reported Tuesday.

A spokesman for Matviyenko, Andrei Kibitov, said the governor is on vacation and wouldn't comment on the report.

Currently St. Petersburg, like Moscow, is a separate federal region within a region.

In February, then-President Vladimir Putin said he didn't see the need for a merger, calling it "enlargement for the sake of enlargement," RIA Novosti reported.

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy last week, Matviyenko said the merger would create a "very powerful economic region."

The decision should be left up to the president, she said.

Leningrad region Governor Valery Serdyukov said earlier this month that "no one has ever presented an economic argument" in favor of such a unification, Interfax reported.

Medvedev, meanwhile, believes that questions of regional unification should be decided by referendum, an unnamed Kremlin official told Vedomosti.

"I see no real economic reasons for doing something like this," said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center. Matviyenko wants to "use the surrounding region as reserve territory," he said, citing garbage disposal and the location of heavy industry as two relevant issues.