Still, it is rumored that one issue the Russian president will stress in his speech is the need to reform the state apparatus. During his two years in power, Putin has mentioned the issue several times, and it was one Yeltsin and his various cabinets talked about regularly–in 1998, then Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko noted that the state bureaucracy had doubled in size from 1992 to 1997–but, again, did virtually nothing to rectify the situation. As the magazine Profil noted this week, the unreformed state apparatus remains a major obstacle to Putin’s plans to modernize Russia, given that no one is likely to make serious investments in the economy as long as a significant proportion of such outlays must go to bribing officials.

The ability to reform the overgrown state bureaucracy, however, is being undermined by some of Putin’s own initiatives. One such initiative, his reassertion of centralized control over the country’s eighty-nine regions, has been widely praised at home and abroad. Yet his introduction of seven new federal districts, each presided over by a special presidential representative, has added a significant layer of bureaucracy to the already corpulent state apparatus.

And while among the tasks of the “polpredy,” as these supergovernors are known in Russian, has been to curb the excesses of regional governors, many of whom have turned their respective regions into private fiefdoms, the creation of the seven federal districts has had unintended consequences. Writing this week Novaya Gazeta columnist Yulia Latynina noted that Leonid Drachevsky, the presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district, has drawn up a “development plan” for the region that include the creation of a so-called “extra-budgetary fund”; Konstantin Pulikovsky, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, has divvyed up his region’s gas stations in favor of one particular business group; Pyotr Latyshev, presidential envoy to the Urals federal district, is an active participant in the battle to control that region’s metallurgical industry; Sergei Kirienko, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district and erstwhile antibureaucracy crusader, is using a “friendly” energy company in his district to bankrupt chemical plants in the town of Dzerzhinsky. The presidential envoys, in Latynina’s view, have turned out to be a “a new breed of locust.”