Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 108

A newspaper today wrote that if Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov’s orders to put regional legislation in line with federal law are followed, Russia could be transformed from a federal into a unitary state within a few months (Kommersant, June 2). On the other hand, it is possible–indeed, likely–that Ustinov’s demarche, and Putin’s centralizing measures in general, will fall well short of radically transforming the Russian state. Instead, the measures are likely to end up simply giving Putin additional power levers to use in bargaining and cutting deals with the regional leaders. Meanwhile, it is local governments which look likely to get the short end of the stick. Indeed, Putin has proposed giving the regional leaders the right to appoint local government heads in cities with populations larger than 50,000. Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, noted that this measure would rob more than 100 million Russians of the right to elect their own administration. Nemtsov said that Putin’s centralization drive, in general, smacked of “political adventurism” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 31). Other leading State Duma deputies, like Vladimir Ryzhkov, have criticized Putin’s planned curbs on local governments (see the Monitor, May 23).

In the meantime, Putin has apparently agreed to give the regional leaders another bone: following a meeting in the Kremlin yesterday, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel quoted the president as saying that if his draft laws on relations with the regions passed the parliament without changes, he would immediately introduce a draft law into the State Duma on setting up a State Council and “protection” of the governors. Some regional leaders have proposed the creation of a State Council in which the regional leaders and the federal authorities can discuss issues. Rossel said that Putin also promised that the heads of federal structures in the regions would not be named without first consulting the regional leaders (Russian agencies, June 1).