Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 103

In an apparent effort to assuage the regional heads over their impending loss of power, the Kremlin is seriously considering the idea of a state council, which was broached earlier this month by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. Shaimiev suggested the State Council as a way for the regional and federal leaders to meet and discuss pressing issues–“at least once a month,” according to one report. The plans for this State Council are serious enough that, according to the same report, office space has already been found for it. While Russia’s constitution does not delineate such a body, State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev said it would be a “consultative public body” and thus not require a constitutional amendment (Segodnya, May 24). Besides Shaimiev, other regional leaders have backed the idea, including Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev, Kemerova Governor Aman Tuleev and Kaliningrad Governor Leonid Gorbenko (Moskovsky komsomolets, May 24). Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak suggested that two-thirds of the State Council members be drawn from the regional leaders, with the rest coming from “presidential structures” and the government. Viktor Cherkesov, the KGB veteran and former Federal Security Service deputy director recently named to head the new Northwestern federal district, called the State Council a “correct idea” that “will be realized without fail” (Russian agencies, May 23).

The idea of a state council has cropped up in Russia in various forms a number of times during the post-Soviet period. In the walk-up to the 1996 presidential election, when the political atmosphere was highly polarized and tense, politicians and power brokers from across the political spectrum–including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Spiritual Heritage movement leader Aleksei Podberyozkin, presidential Security Service chief Aleksandr Korzhakov, Boris Berezovsky and fellow “oligarch” Aleksandr Smolensky–urged a postponement or cancellation of the election and the establishment of an elite extra-constitutional ruling body. The leftist leaders and the oligarchs even met to discuss the idea, but it never got off the ground (see the Moscow Times, April 30, May 21, 1996).

Given that the elites are far more “consolidated” today than in 1996, the Kremlin would have little incentive to give the proposed State Council real authority. One report this week suggested the Kremlin will “staff” the State Council “according to its own tastes”–meaning with “some loyal governors, plus all kinds of pro-presidential structures”–after which it will finally “kill off” the reformed Federation Council (Segodnya, May 24). Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Foundation, said the chances were high that the State Council would be a meaningless body giving the governors the chance to meet with the president only “now and then.” Nikonov said it was possible that Putin would nix the State Council idea entirely (Russian agencies, May 23). On the other hand, Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies, said the State Council had a “serious future,” and might even be enshrined in the constitution (Russian agencies, May 23).