Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 89

Speculation that Vladimir Putin will limit significantly the power of Russia’s regional leaders continues to circulate through Moscow’s political rumor mill. According to a leading weekly magazine, the presidential administration plans to start appointing the heads of regional branches of ministries and other federal agencies–including “power ministries” like the Interior Ministry–without first reaching agreement with the governors or regional heads. The Kremlin also reportedly plans to push a measure through the State Duma ensuring that neither governors nor the heads of regional legislative assemblies sit in the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, as they currently do. Russia’s constitution says simply that two “representatives” of each region’s legislature and executive will sit in the Federation Council, without specifying that they must be the governor and legislative assembly head. Were this change made, the governors and legislative assembly heads would no longer enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, which comes with Federation Council membership. Thirdly, the Kremlin is working on a way to remove regional heads from office temporarily for violating the law, the constitution or a presidential decree.

In addition, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has reportedly given Putin a plan that would group Russia’s eighty-nine regions into twelve to fifteen federal districts. While the regional governors would continue to be elected, each district would be headed by a presidential appointee, who would be in charge of all the regional branches of federal ministries and agencies in his district, along with the federal funds sent to the regions in his district. This plan is similar to the system of “general-governors” in Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries (see the Monitor, March 14). Luzhkov’s idea apparently has the support of Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, and has also been backed by Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the State Duma’s credit organization and financial markets committee and a member of the pro-Kremlin People’s Deputy faction in the Duma (Vlast, May 2).

State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev hinted this week that the Kremlin is seriously considering such changes. Asked in a television interview about possible opposition from the governors to his proposal to move the parliament from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Seleznev answered: “There’s no sense in governors worrying that they’ll have to split [their time] between Moscow and St. Petersburg. It’s likely that, in accordance with a new law about the Federation Council [under consideration], governors won’t be representing the federation in its upper house” (Moscow Times, May 4).