Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 163

President Putin’s appointment of the president of Tatarstan to the presidium of Russia’s new State Council suggests that the Kremlin’s attack on the regions has bogged down.

On September 1, Putin kept his promise to Russia’s regional leaders when he signed a decree setting up a State Council–a new body on which the leaders of all of Russia’s eighty-nine republics and regions will be represented. The Council will meet every three months and its powers will be consultative. They could not be otherwise, given that the new body has been created by presidential decree, without amending the Russian constitution.

Representatives of each of the seven new federal districts, however, are to sit on a specially created presidium. This new body will meet once a month and be responsible for informing the president about the concerns and desires of the regions. Its members will rotate every six months (Vedomosti, September 1).

To this new body Putin has named the leaders of some of Russia’s most important regions: Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Tatarstan’s President Mintimer Shaimiev, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Dagestan State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov, Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev, Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress and Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketsky (Russian agencies, September 2). What is striking about the new State Council is that Putin has adopted the model most congenial to the regional elites. As the Russian media have noted, the State Council is almost a mirror image of the Federation Council, of which the heads of the executive and legislative branches of all of Russia’s republics and regions presently enjoy ex officio membership. During the shadowboxing which followed Putin’s move to oust the regional governors from parliament, almost all the provisions which had aroused the regional leaders’ antipathy were dropped. The governors will, in 2002, lose their ex officio seats in the Federation Council, but they will appoint their own, permanent nominees to take their places.

The Kremlin has, moreover, dropped its original idea of including in the State Council only the heads of those regions which are self-supporting in terms of financing and resources and of simultaneously diluting the Council by including representatives of various political and religious organizations. Putin has even conceded that the Council’s status may be reviewed at some future date, and its powers increased. All this suggests that Putin has ended his active offensive against the regional elites. His team appears to have exhausted its reserve of administrative resources for waging a short, victorious war against the regional barons and to have found itself instead facing protracted and unpredictable trench warfare on enemy territory.

As a result, the Kremlin is backing off. One sign of this was Putin’s meeting in Samara last week with the leaders of thirteen of the fifteen republics and regions making up the Volga federal district, which took place just before the president signed the decree setting up the State Council (Russian agencies, August 30-September 1). It was reportedly during this closed-door meeting that Putin allowed himself to be persuaded that all of the country’s regional leaders should be represented in the new State Council (Noviye izvestia, September 1).

It is not known what arguments the regional leaders made, but they were convincing enough to persuade the Russian president to make concessions even on minor points. They asked Putin, for example, to name the new body the “State Council of the Russian Federation” rather than the “State Council under the President of the Russian Federation,” and he agreed (Vedomosti, September 1).

Putin seems to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor. Early in his tenure, Yeltsin too tried to impose strict control over the regions, only to be forced almost immediately to pull in his horns and to offer the ethnically based republics rights significantly exceeding those of the oblasts and krais. At that time, the acknowledged leaders of the constructive wing of the “autonomous” movement were Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. These two republics appear to be playing a similar role today, heading the regional opposition to the Kremlin and achieving concrete successes.

Confirmation comes from the fact that Tatarstan’s President Shaimiev rather than Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov has been named to represent the Volga on the State Council presidium. Shaimiev plays a rather isolationist role in the Volga district, whereas Titov is recognized as the informal leader of the inter-regional economic association “Great Volga” (RTR, September 2). Given that Shaimiev is one of only two leaders of ethnic republics named by Putin to the presidium, and that the other, Dagestan’s Magomedov, is not Shaimiev’s equal in terms of influence, it may be assumed that the Tatarstani leader will represent the interests of the national republics in general and of his own republic in particular.

What this suggests, moreover, is that the possibility of reviewing the unorthodox 1994 bilateral treaty between Tatarstan and the Russian Federation has been taken off the agenda, as has the Constitutional Court’s recent provocative ruling that the claims to sovereign statehood enshrined Tatarstan’s 1992 constitution conflict with the 1993 Russian constitution. This perhaps explains the statement, made at the beginning of August by Sergei Kirienko, Putin’s special representative to the Volga federal district, that “There are several areas in which the independence of the republics is genuinely good. It seems that we shall in future be dealing with measured sovereignty: Perhaps this is what Shaimiev and Putin agreed when they met at Tatarstan’s annual Sabantui festival in June. Such an agreement will allow the Tatarstani president to ignore the ruling of the Constitutional Court” (Izvestia, August 2).

It is now becoming clear that a compromise will be struck which will allow Tatarstan to keep its special status and yet miraculously transform itself from a separatist region into one which can serve as an example to others. The official Russian media have already acknowledged Tatarstan as unique among those Russian republics which have proclaimed themselves sovereign states. Tatarstan’s 1994 power-sharing treaty with Moscow was indeed exceptional, since it was the only one of the bilateral treaties to recognize the priority of the constitutions both of Tatarstan and of the Russian Federation (Parliamentskaya gazeta, August 31).

On the eve of his appointment to the State Council presidium, Shaimiev told the Kazan newspaper “Vremya i Dengi” (Time and Money) that Putin had acknowledged that the bilateral treaty between Russia and Tatarstan had been the correct solution (Russian agencies, August 31). Other republics are likely to take the hint and, while making any number of symbolic gestures, calmly continue their sovereign existence.