President Putin’s drive to strengthen the federal government at the expense of the regions has enough support in the Duma to roll right over regional resistance. Under Russia’s constitution, a two-thirds vote in the lower house of parliament (the Duma) can send a bill to the president for signature even if the upper house (the Federation Council) has voted the bill down. Bills in the Duma to curb the power of regional leaders have typically carried by five or ten votes more than the 300 needed to override objections in the Federation Council.

The regional chief executives and legislative leaders who now make up the Federation Council are losing the battle to retain their prerogatives. Putin asked parliament for the power to dismiss regional leaders and legislatures that violate federal laws. The Federation Council said no, and the Duma easily overrode the veto, 362-35-8. Today members of the Federation Council must choose whether to give up their seats voluntarily, or wait for the Duma to pull the chairs out from under them. The bill “On the procedure for forming the Federation Council” removes regional leaders from their ex officio positions in the Council (though it lets them appoint their successors), thereby stripping the regional leaders of the immunity they enjoy as federal parliamentarians. In a sop to the regions, the Duma amended the original Kremlin proposal to delay implementation until January 1, 2002. The amended bill passed the Duma a week ago by 307-88-5, and there is little doubt of enactment regardless of what the Council does now.

The next step in Putin’s counter-devolution is a tax bill that will change revenue sharing between the federal and regional governments from 50-50 to 70-30, with the federal government taking the bear’s share. The revised division of the spoils is already incorporated into the proposed 2001 budget. Governors like their seats in parliament, and they struggled to retain them, but money is money, and this fight will be much tougher. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov called the Kremlin’s bill “exceptionally dangerous and harmful.” If the regions have any clout left, they will use it here.