President Putin’s drive to govern Russia’s regions directly from the Kremlin shows no signs of slowing down. In one of his first acts as president, Putin by decree created seven federal districts as a new administrative level on top of the country’s eighty-nine sub-federal units. He then named presidential representatives (mainly military and security officials) to each, giving them control over federal resources in their districts. Now he has asked the prosecutor general to assign deputies to each district, to “assist” regional federal prosecutors who may have fallen under the political sway of elected regional leaders. Representatives of other enforcement agencies–Interior, the tax police, the Audit Chamber–will follow.
Nullification of regional laws that violate federal statutes is underway. Putin canceled some egregious examples by decree and may soon go after the ethnic republics with constitutions that assert sovereignty or usurp federal powers. These include Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Bashkortostan, Komi, Kabardin-Balkaria, Tatarstan, Tuva, Yakutia, Kalmykia and Buratia–no small list. By decree, Putin stripped the president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, of his lieutenant general’s commission in the Russian army. Aushev had withheld federal taxes to protest lack of funds for handling the flood of refugees from neighboring Chechnya. (Aushev in an interview said he resigned his commission voluntarily.)
The State Duma, the lower house of parliament, gave big margins of approval to three government bills restructuring federal-regional relations to shift more power to the center. No more than 39 (of 450) deputies voted “no” on any of the measures. The bills would give the president authority to remove regional chief executives and legislatures, give regional chief executives authority to remove mayors and town councils, and remove regional chief executives and legislative leaders from the Federation Council, parliament’s upper house. But the votes were on “first reading,” the beginning of the legislative process. A long process of amendment and two more votes in plenary are needed before the bills go to the upper house, where opposition may be stiffer.