President Vladimir Putin’s drive to restore the Russian state is filled with energy, creativity, intensity, and boldness. But as Russians always want to know, who stands to gain?
Putin has made asserting central control over Russia’s regions his first task. If he sustains the pace of his first two weeks in office, his hundred days will be as dramatic as Franklin Roosevelt’s. But the world may not be as grateful for his performance.
By decree, Putin on May 13 created seven super-regions, to be headed by presidential appointees with the power to administer federal monies and programs in their districts. He has now named his men: five from the services (two military, one Federal Security Service, one ex-KGB, one Interior Ministry) and two civilians. He followed this with decrees suspending regional laws that infringe on federal prerogatives: laws sequestering federal taxes in Ingushetia, regulating trade with China in Amur, asserting emergency powers in Bashkortostan. Another batch of decrees is reportedly on the way. And on May 22 he told the country he wants three new laws enacted: one to take regional leaders out of the federal parliament; a second to give the president authority to dismiss elected regional chief executives and dissolve elected regional legislatures; and a third to give the heads of regional governments similar power to fire mayors and send town councils packing.
The legislative initiative opens what may turn out to be a desultory debate. The governors and other regional leaders by and large don’t seem to mind losing their seats in the parliament’s upper house (the Federation Council), no doubt because Putin’s bill proposes that the seats be filled by their nominees. (“Lovers and nephews,” say the scoffers. Nobody likes nepotism, except the nepots.) There is more concern about giving the president power to turn governors and assemblies out of office, but the proposal to give governors in their regions parallel powers over mayors and aldermen mutes the governors’ objections. After all, if in practice the governors’ power flows down from the Kremlin more than up from the people, why not let the law conform to reality? Then the governors and republic presidents can be little Putin mini-me’s to mayors and city dumas who might otherwise become obstreperous.