Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 106

The State Duma today will consider President Vladimir Putin’s three draft laws aimed at strengthening the presidential “vertical” of power over the regions. One would allow the president to remove regional heads and dissolve regional parliaments who or which violated federal law. A second would ensure that neither governors nor regional legislative assembly heads sit in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, thereby robbing them of immunity from criminal prosecution. The third would allow regional heads to dissolve local self-government organs, meaning municipal and other local governments. The Duma is expected to pass all three laws (Russian agencies, May 30).

Meanwhile, Boris Berezovsky, the controversial Kremlin insider who currently represents the Karachaevo-Cherkessia national republic in the State Duma, has sent Putin an open letter criticizing the head of state’s recent recentralization measures. Berezovsky took aim at Putin’s decree creating seven new federal super districts, each headed by a presidential representative, questioning its constitutionality and saying that it should have been put to a national referendum. The full text of Berezovsky’s letter was published today in one of the newspapers he controls (Kommersant, May 31). In other remarks published today, Berezovsky said that he would vote against all three Kremlin draft laws, saying that they threatened “the territorial integrity of Russia and democracy.” He called the creation of the seven super districts an “extremely dangerous” step which would stimulate the process of Russia’s break-up. He also declared himself categorically against the president having the right to remove governors. Berezovsky said that he did not question Putin’s intentions–the president sincerely wants to create a strong state–but asserted that the measures raised questions about Putin’s commitment to democracy (Argumenty i Fakty, no. 22, May 2000).

According to some observers, Berezovsky’s demarche means either that the Kremlin inner circle has split with Putin over his centralization plan, or that Berezovsky has split with both Putin and the inner circle (NTV, May 30). Others, however, viewed Berezovsky’s comments more cynically. One newspaper speculated that his demarche was actually aimed at shoring up support for Putin’s measures among State Duma deputies, some of whom are reportedly under tremendous pressure from regional leaders to vote against the measures (Komsomolskaya pravda, May 31; Russian agencies, May 30). It is possible that Berezovsky’s criticism of Putin’s measures was also aimed at restoring Putin’s credibility as an independent actor. The fact that a preponderance of key cabinet posts recently went to allies of the “Family”–the group of Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders which includes Berezovsky–raised questions about Putin’s independence, as did Putin’s May 27 reappointment of Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, a reputed Berezovsky ally. NTV television reported over the weekend that Putin had wanted to merge the Kremlin administration with his advisory Security Council–whose secretary, Sergei Ivanov, is a Putin loyalist–and that Voloshin was supposed to have been moved out of the Kremlin to head a large Russian state company (NTV, May 28). The fact that Voloshin was reappointed rather than squeezed out was yet another indicator of the Family’s strength. Thus Berezovsky’s public “opposition” to Putin’s centralization measures, which the State Duma will pass in any case, may have been an attempt to create the appearance of disagreement and discord between Putin and the Family.