Publication: Prism Volume: 5 Issue: 6

By V.A. Mironov

In recent months, republican and regional elites have attracted more and more attention in the Russian Federation. This is partly because devolution of powers and responsibility for many political and economic issues from the center to the provinces is continuing. But, in addition, federal campaigns for the Duma and presidential elections are getting underway. When only the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and “Russia is Our Home” have regional party structures, the position of local administrations is more and more important, because the structures which they can activate have varying resources and reserves for organizing and running election campaigns. Moreover, regional leaders, according to Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev, have realized that they “did not take the 1995 Duma elections seriously enough,” and are not going to make the same mistake in 1999. More and more calls are heard to form a single powerful electoral bloc which would unite the leaders of the republican and regional elites and be able to control 15-20 percent of the Russian electorate. Is this realistic?

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS FAVORING THE CREATION OF A “PARTY OF THE REGIONS?” First, the creation of a single “regional” electoral bloc is seemingly facilitated by the fact that Viktor Chernomyrdin’s “Russia is our Home” has vacated that position. If regional leaders manage to create a coalition of influential political forces, they will have a chance to lay the foundations of a real nationwide party of power, to have a decisive influence on the future allocation of financial and raw material resources, and to play a key role both in regulating the social behavior of the elite and in the training and job rotation of state officials.

Second, the republican and regional elites all have a seeming interest in maintaining the status quo, leaving unchanged the strategy for building Russia’s new society, and continuing the program of modernization based on democratic and market reforms and integration with international political, economic and financial structures.

Third, the authorities of the subjects of the Russian Federation cannot ignore the position of the federal center on strengthening the role of the state in pushing through social, economic and political reforms, including in relations between Moscow and the republics and regions. The prevailing opinion in federal power structures is that federal relations require modernization, due to centrifugal tendencies and the fact that “power has become flaccid and uncontrollable.” Power should become solid and controllable again. To this end, a radical overhaul is necessary, on the basis of and within the bounds of the current constitution and legislation governing Russia’s federal structure. A moratorium should be announced on territorial claims which subjects of the federation make against one another. Some branches of the infrastructure (federal energy systems, transport systems and so on) cannot be handed over to the republics and the regions. And some proposals on the table, particularly on amalgamating the regions (prime minister Yevgeny Primakov believes that eighty-nine federation subjects is “rather a lot”) will be discussed only after the parliamentary and presidential election campaigns in 2000, when “regulating federal relations will be the priority task.” Against this background, many republican and regional politicians may attempt to do the federal authorities a “favor” which will be taken into consideration in the future by the victors.


Uniting the elites of the federation subjects into a single “party of the regions” is hampered by the fact that, first, the federal and republican-regional political, administrative and economic elites, not to mention the new financial and entrepreneurial elite, have rejected the mobilization development of the country. Only under these conditions would it be possible to consolidate the entire elite into one single nationwide “party of power” and to subordinate the corporate interests of its individual groups to common nationwide goals. Second, there are great differences between the federation subjects and a segmentation of Russia’s social, economic and political space.

1. It is clear that there are both regions loyal to the current federal authorities (in the north) and regions in opposition (in the south). To a great extent this is linked to the predominance of either urban or rural populations, which have very different mentalities. Typical for the south is a tendency towards conservatism and caution both in methods of problem solving and in understanding of the prospects opening up as a result of the transformations underway in the country. The south’s traditionalism can be explained by the fact that the population there has “put down roots” or “grown” into the surrounding countryside; because of the concentration on agricultural production and renewable resources, to some extent the population has become “tied” to the environment. It tries to preserve the familiar order, and has difficulty imagining a reforming invasion of the local world it has known since childhood. Meanwhile the industrial north, which is geared towards the use of nonrenewable raw material resources, sees nature as its “workshop” and is willing to quickly introduce new methods of production and new technologies. It demonstrates a pragmatic openness, but at the same time shows a certain indifference towards its environment.

2. Throughout the existence of the Russian Federation there have been disagreements between the national formations (twenty-one republics, ten autonomous okrugs, one autonomous oblast) and the administrative-territorial ones (six krais, forty-nine oblasts and two cities with federal status) over the powers, responsibilities and equality of the federation subjects. There is no single state-political structure in the Russian Federation. A multitude of different republican and regional regimes have appeared; these differ both in the powers enjoyed by the representative and legislative structures and in the type of structure as a whole. For example, the parliamentary republic in Udmurtia differs from the American-style presidential system in Samara Oblast; the “hyper-presidential” system in Moscow from the strong legislative and regulatory authority of Voronezh Oblast.

3. Economic life differs from region to region. Moscow’s postindustrial economic region coexists with the industrial Urals, Volga region and so on, which rub shoulders with pre-industrial Kalmykia, Ingushetia and similar regions.

4. There are differences in the interests and economic situation of the elites of the highly populated Volga and Ural regions, which are geared towards the development of heavy industry and high-tech production (Nizhny Novgorod, Sverdlovsk, Samara, Chelyabinsk Oblasts, the republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan); those federation subjects which control strategic natural resources (Krasnoyarsk krai, Komi republic, Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenetsky autonomous okrugs); and agricultural subjects (Krasnodar and Stavropol krais, Kursk and Orel Oblasts and others). In addition, there are differences in the positions of republics and regions geared towards the internal market, which are as yet unable to supply competitive products for the world market (particularly the republics of Mariy El and Buryatia, and the Belgorod, Vladimir, Ivanovsk and Kostroma Oblasts) and those which either control the sea ports, ensuring the inclusion of Russia in international economic relations (Kaliningrad, Leningrad and Rostov Oblasts, Krasnodar and Primorsky krais) or which are integrated into foreign and transnational economic systems (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenetski autonomous okrugs and others).

5. Economic differences are compounded by the fact that only ten federation subjects, comprising only 25 percent of the population, are donors to the federal budget, providing around 60 percent of its financial contributions, while most of Russia’s republics, krais and oblasts receive subsidies and transfers from Moscow. Naturally, the social and economic gap between the donors and the recipients is becoming wider. With such a state of affairs, there are differences both in the problems facing the leaders of the various republics and regions and in their capabilities to resolve them.

Third, there are differences in the positions of the leaders of the federation subjects on important issues of the development of the country. In particular, some regional politicians, led by Novgorod administration chief Mikhail Prusak, are in favor of abolishing the elective status of governors and heads of municipalities. Meanwhile Tatarstan President Mintemir Shaimiev believes that the interests of the nationalities are poorly represented in the federal center, and wants to form a House of Nationalities in the Federal Assembly. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the leaders of federation subjects whose territories include offshore zones advocate retaining the practice of tax contributions from business structures, whereas most republican and regional heads call for taxes to be levied where the main product is produced. (Oil wells operate in Siberia, for example, but taxes from them go to the capital’s coffers).

Fourth, the ongoing process of ethnic mobilization in the national federation subjects is leading not just to the formation of interregional consultative bodies (for example, recently an interparliamentary council was formed between the republic of Buryatia and the Aginsk Buryat and Ust-Ordynsk Buryat autonomous okrugs where the Buryats are the titular nationality) but also to a worsening of interrepublic relations. For example, the Bashkortostan parliament does not want to give the Tatar language official status alongside Bashkir and Russian, though the Tatars are more numerous in the republic than the Bashkirs. This has led to coolness in relations between Kazan and Ufa. Relations between the Ossetian and Ingush republics are still on the brink of “cold war.”

Fifth, despite some consolidation of republican and regional elites, there are local conflicts over the redistribution of social and economic resources and powers. These tend to manifest themselves in very different ways. The most common scenario is rivalry between the president or governor and the mayor of the “capital” of the republic, krai or oblast over the budget and regional and municipal property. There are many examples: Primorsky and Krasnodar krais, Buryatia, Udmurtia, Arkhangelsk, Omsk, Sverdlovsk Oblasts and so on. In a number of federation subjects (Khakassia, Stavropol krai, Tver Oblast and others) the republican and regional leadership meets with resistance not just from the mayor of the capital but also from a coalition of local authority heads.

Given this, presidents and governors try either to abolish local government (Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, North Ossetia), or not to hold elections to local government bodies, or to reduce their status to that of regional councils and abolish elective administrations (Kursk and Novosibirsk Oblasts). It is no coincidence that over the past five years the number of local government bodies has decreased threefold. Meanwhile in Karelia, Samara, Saratov and Vologda Oblasts the administration heads have managed to establish normal working relations with the heads of local government organs.

Quite often there is rivalry between several “power centers,” represented either by branch lobbies (the agriculture industry complex, the military industrial complex, the fuel and energy complex in Krasnodar, Sverdlovsk, Tatarstan and other regions), or territorial lobbies (for example, representatives of Khanty-Mansiisk and Surgut are in competition in Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous okrug), or national lobbies (particularly in the republics of the northern Caucasus). In some federation subjects (Krasnoyarsk krai, Kemerovo Oblast) there is opposition between the regional executive and legislative authorities.

Sixth, there is confusion in the republican and regional elites brought about by the process now underway of transformation from a super-presidential to a parliamentary republic. Some regional politicians continue to focus on the president, some on the government, and others on the State Duma. On the one hand, the process of clarifying the powers and responsibilities of the various branches of federal power is not yet complete, and has not been enshrined in the Constitution or federal legislation. On the other hand, there has been an increase in the influence of the federal government, the State Duma and the Federation Council both on the formulation of social and economic policy in the country as a whole and on the parameters of the state budget and the direct distribution of state funds. This uncertainty compounds the ideological differences between the leaders of the federation subjects, some of whom were elected with the support of the national-patriotic forces of Russia (which are based on the KPRF), others on the basis of strict opposition to the KPRF.


During the last several months, various leaders of federation subjects have announced either the creation of a political movement (Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov) or the creation of an electoral bloc (Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov) or the possibility of the emergence in the near future of an authoritative movement with the participation of the regions (Tatarstan president Mintemir Shaimiev). The co-founders of these regional organizations make a rather varied group. Yuri Luzhkov’s “Fatherland” movement includes the governors of Arkhangelsk Oblast Anatoly Efremov, Novosibirsk Oblast Vitaly Mukha, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast Ivan Sklyarov, the head of the republic of Mordovia Nikolai Merkushin, and the head of government of the Karelia republic Sergei Katanandov among others. Konstantin Titov has been joined by around twenty executive and legislative heads including the Khakassia chief Aleksei Lebed, the governors of Kaliningrad and Rostov Oblasts Leonid Gorbenko and Vladimir Chub, the heads of the legislative assemblies of Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous okrug Sergei Sobyanin, Saratov Oblast Aleksandr Kharitonov and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast Anatoly Kozeradsky. Mintemir Shaimiev’s supporters have not yet revealed themselves, but it is believed that they will mainly come from the national republics.

Yet despite this diversity, the organizations have something in common.

First, they set themselves general undisputed tasks. Yuri Luzhkov proposes “gathering together all those who know what needs to be done”, and preaches “common sense and concern for the life of Russia’s citizens.” Konstantin Titov intends to create “a normal democratic state” with a federal structure, offering opportunities for industrialists, businessmen and ordinary people, with a level of social security for those who cannot work, and fundamentally just treatment for all.” Mintemir Shaimiev hopes that “the aims and tasks of the movement’s program will be to defend the democratic path and principles of the country’s development, taking into consideration the specific interests of the regions. For the regions are Russia.”

Second, the composition of these coalitions is not stable. There are vacillations among the regional leaders, many of whom have not finally decided in which bloc to participate in the election campaign. In particular, Aleksandr Lebed said that if he is unhappy with the leader of his bloc, he “can always retract his signature.” The governor of Yaroslavl Oblast, Anatoly Lisitsyn, who suspended his membership of “Russia is Our Home” and took part in the opening congress of Luzhkov’s Fatherland movement, turned to Viktor Chernomyrdin for help on the eve of the elections for the head of the oblast administration.

Third, they all intend to form a powerful “regional lobby” in the lower house of parliament, a lobby for which “politics will take second place to legislative activity.” By thus taking control of the activity of the State Duma, they hope to consolidate the political position of the upper house of the Federal Assembly, reinforcing the regional element of state politics.

Fourth, the regional leaders are aware that the political ambitions of their colleagues may be a serious impediment to the creation of an electoral bloc for the Russian provinces. It is no coincidence that the regional heavyweights such as the governors of Sverdlovsk Oblast Eduard Rossel, Krasnodar krai Nikolai Kondratenko and Krasnoyarsk krai Aleksandr Lebed have not yet entered the ring.

Fifth, the worsening of the economic crisis in August and September last year seriously damaged the financial resources of the regional authorities. The remaining funds are concentrated in Moscow. The leaders of the federation subjects are beginning to depend more and more on Moscow and the federal authorities, which are capable of resurrecting the shattered banking system.

Sixth, the leaders of the republics and regions are characterized by a state of uneasy anticipation and hope that, thanks to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, “everything will be under control and the nuclear button will be in safe hands.”

Against this background, a horizontal split in the Russian elite and deadlock in the federal structures is unlikely. A vertical split is more likely: the emergence of a clientele for federal politicians among the regional elites. In other words, regional politicians are not independent subjects of pre-election political intrigue, but a strategic reserve for federal politicians.

The most important thing for the regions now is to look for a figurehead on a federal level who can unite as large a number of regional leaders as possible. According to Aman Tuleev and Dmitri Ayatskov, from the opposing National Patriotic and Russia is Our Home factions, it would be possible to avoid a clash of ambitions in the “party of the regions” by offering the leadership to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Only time will tell whether this initiative will be implemented.

Vladimir Alekseevich Mironov is a senior fellow of the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.