Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 40

Last week, the Kremlin commission charged with delimiting areas of authority between the federal government and Russia’s eighty-nine republics and regions suddenly reminded the world of its existence. Statements by its chairman, deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitry Kozak, warned Russia’s regional leaders that they may soon find themselves facing a fresh threat to their independence (Russian agencies, February 19-20).

Set up by President Vladimir Putin in September 2001, the Kozak commission is tasked with resolving the thorny issue of the distribution of power amongst the federal authorities, legislative and executive bodies at the regional level and local government bodies. It has already collected proposals from analogous commissions set up in Russia’s seven federal districts; by the summer, it is supposed to work out recommendations to serve as the basis for new legislative proposals by the presidential team.

For a long time, there was silence about the activities of the commission and its possible conclusions. But Kozak’s latest pronouncements have revealed enough to alert regional governors that the Kremlin may be planning some unpleasant new initiatives that the governors are unlikely to find to their liking. Speaking in Cherepovets, Kozak raised the possibility of abolishing the system of bilateral treaties on delimiting authority between the regions and the federal center. Starting with Moscow’s unorthodox but effective 1994 treaty with Tatarstan, the federal government has signed a wide variety of agreements with over half of Russia’s republics and regions. Kozak asserted that, in the six months since his commission began work, calls for the abrogation of these treaties have come from at least twenty regions (, February 19).

Kozak’s claim provoked a range of reactions from Russian politicians, above all from members of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. The leadership of the chamber, which consists of regional representatives, said it supported the Kremlin’s plans to abolish “special treaty relations” with the regions and switch to a single scheme for all. Sergei Mironov, speaker of the upper chamber, declared that the bilateral treaties “had no future.” Certain agreements, he complained, gave special privileges to some regions that other regions did not enjoy.

Mironov brought the debate round to a topic very fashionable in Russia at present, amending the constitution. The constitution, he said, should lay down “specific powers” for the regions (Russian agencies, February 19). Rank-and-file members of the upper house expressed similar views. Viktor Ozerov, who represents Khabarovsk Krai, dismissed Moscow’s bilateral treaties with the regions as ineffective. “None of them has really worked,” he said. “Most of them violated the constitution. We live in a federation, not in a state founded on a treaty.” Aleksandr Nazarov, who represents Chukotka in northeastern Siberia, took a positive view of the treaties, but he too called for them to be brought into line with the constitution. Leonid Bindar, who represents the Taimyr Autonomous Okrug in the far north, said the constitution was “more than adequate” to regulate relations between the regions and the center (Russian agencies, February 19).

So far, there has been an ominous silence from those Russian republics, such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, claiming a special relationship with the center. It was for precisely these republics–above all, to prevent them from trying to secede from the Federation–that the bilateral treaties were created. Clearly, such republics will not give up their special status without a fight.

Kozak’s commission is to present its recommendations in the form of draft bills, some of which may become law before the end of the year. The plan seems to be not only to redistribute power between the center and the regions but also to reexamine the question of how specific–in particular, financial–responsibilities should be apportioned between the center and the regions. For example, Kozak’s commission is believed to be considering the possibility of subordinating financially insolvent regions to some form of higher authority. The aim is to force regions to cut back spending if they cannot come up with their own funding, and to protect the federal government from the threat of blackmail by spendthrift regional governments. If a region cannot afford to exercise all the powers granted to it under the constitution, it will have to ask the center for support. And a law already exists that allows the president to remove from office governors who are unable to fulfill their obligations (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 20).