A group to support President Vladimir Putin has been set up in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council (Russian agencies, February 21). Council member Leon Kovalsky, chairman of the Samara Oblast legislative assembly, made the announcement on February 21, during a meeting of the council’s constitutional committee. According to Kovalsky, the new group, which will be called Federation, is made up mostly of representatives who have been delegated to the Federation Council by governors who no longer have automatic membership in the council. Kovalsky, however, did not name the members of Federation. In general, the information which has appeared about Federation thus far has been contradictory. Federation Council member Vladimir Kulikov, for example, reported that fifty senators had expressed their desire to join the group. According to another report, forty-seven council members signed the document announcing the group’s creation (Polit.ru, February 22; Segodnya, February 23).
Federation, the first political association to be set up inside the Federation Council, has already come in for criticism by other council members. Vladimir Platonov, a deputy Federation Council speaker, declared, for example: “It turns out that this group is made up of those who support the president. Meaning, ostensibly, that the rest do not. We have always supported state authority, and they [members of Federation] for some reason have decided to support only the president” (Vremya MN, February 22). Many of Platonov’s colleagues in the Federation Council shared his bewilderment. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said that the president did not need additional support structures, given that his position is strong “and, God willing, will continue to be” (Polit.ru, February 22) Even Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev made it clear that he did not think it expedient to create a pro-Putin group in the parliament’s upper chamber. Stroev said that the Federation Council had always unwaveringly supported Putin’s course and his economic reforms (Polit.ru, February 22).
In general, commentators have reacted to the creation of Federation with skepticism, saying that the group’s goals remain unclear. Indeed, even Vyacheslav Khizhnyakov, the president’s representative in the Federation Council, said that he would be happy if Federation concentrated on the tasks which the president has put before the parliament, but said he could only comment about the new group in more detail once it was fully up and running (Polit.ru, February 22). Several commentators have called Federation a “prototype faction”–the Federation Council’s current rules forbid factions–both in terms of its membership and its role, part of which, as one newspaper put it, is to remind the senators: “Those who are not for us are against us” (Segodnya, February 23). According to other observers, Federation was set up to serve as a counterweight to the left in Federation Council, which has strengthened its position thanks to the election of a number of communist governors late last year (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 23). Whatever the case, the appearance of Federation has provided pro-Kremlin media with the pretext to discuss what they see as the victory of the Kremlin’s reform of the Federation Council.
REGIONAL DATA DEPICT BROAD RUSSIAN ECONOMIC EXPANSION.