Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 180

Governors vary in their reactions to the power vacuum at the federal center. For a small number of ambitious governors, such as Dmitry Ayatskov of Saratov, the crisis represents an opportunity to enter the national political arena, with an eye to the post of prime minister, even president. For the majority, however, it is seen as a chance to consolidate control of developments in their own regions. The lexicon of policies which governors around the country are adopting include the declaration of a regional state of emergency; the imposition of controls on the import and especially export of food, alcohol and other products; and increased control over local media (which are in financial crisis because of inflation and the slump in advertising revenue). Some regions are even moving to re-nationalize some local industries–as in Bashkortostan’s recent step to merge five local energy companies into a republic-controlled holding company. These steps, however, signal a strengthening of governors’ power over the local population, rather than a stronger bargaining position vis-a-vis Moscow. Despite the weakening of the center, the current crisis has not altered the fact that seventy-nine of the eighty-nine regions are net recipients of federal transfers. Although the absolute amount of federal subsidies has shrunk, the ability of regions to raise local revenues has also shrunk–due to the economic crisis.

The second factor working in the Kremlin’s favor is that even though the governors may be getting stronger individually, they cannot work together effectively to put collective pressure on Moscow. This is due to three factors. First is their diverging economic and political interests. Second is their over-strong egos. Third is their numbers: There are simply too many of them to coordinate effectively.