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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Urals Republic: Partial Autonomy Is Enough

A piece of Russia rivaling any small European country in size and population has seized a new status for itself, but the leaders of the self-proclaimed Urals Republic say they pose no threat to the country's integrity.


Eduard Rossel, governor of the Sverdlovsk Region went on television Sunday to announce that his territory had formally become the Urals Republic and had adopted its own constitution.


If effected, that change in status would give Sverdlovsk the greater economic and political autonomy enjoyed by Russia's 21 existing republics, an advantage that was granted during the Soviet era as a concession to the ethnic minorities living there.


But it appears the Urals will not follow the path chosen by some of the existing republics, like Chechnya or Tatarstan, which have pushed for independence and national sovereignty respectively.


"The Urals Republic has no pretensions to the right to leave Russia", said Alexander Levin, press secretary to the Sverdlovsk governor Tuesday.


"We have no frontiers, no customs, no army, no flag, no currency. What we have now is political, legislative and economic freedom", he said, attempting to allay fears that Sverdlovsk's unilateral move could break Russia in pieces.


Rossel's announcement nevertheless drew an angry response from Moscow.


"For me there is no such republic, and we shall have nothing to do with it, even if the feelings of some people will be hurt", Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Monday, Interfax reported.


The Sverdlovsk region, with a population of nearly 5 million people and an area the size of England and Scotland combined, has long been one of Russia's most powerful territories. Some of the country's biggest industrial plants are concentrated there, such as Uralmash, which produces tanks and heavy machinery.


For a region with such industrial muscle, economic autonomy was the prime objective of claiming the status of a republic.


"At the moment all our economic contacts abroad are made through Moscow. That's absurd! " Vladimir Lomontsev, head of external relations at Yekaterinburg city hall said Monday.


Lomontsev said the new republic, with its own laws and taxes, would have roughly the same status as an American state. He said they currently did not even have the right to choose the color they painted their trams.


Levin said the proclamation was part of a process of leveling out the differences between the regions and republics, which had helped to disrupt plans for a new constitution for much of the year.


The Sverdlovsk leadership, said Levin, was helping build a "new structure of the federation on territorial, not national principles".


That aim is surprisingly closer to the position of Yeltsin and his allies in the Constitutional Assembly, who announced on Oct. 23 that they planned to downgrade the status of the Russian republics and take away their "sovereign" status.


This has even led to speculation that Yeltsin - who himself comes from the Sverdlovsk region and was local Communist Party boss there for 17 years - may have engineered the proclamation to give him ammunition against the more radical republics.


However this version of events was firmly rejected by Alexander Levin.


"I can 100 percent assure you it wasn't discussed with the president", he said.