Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 5

By V.A. Mironov


For several months, the federal and regional elites were marking time. First they were hypnotized by the unpredictability of the parliamentary elections, then the presidential elections, then they were waiting for the new head of state to announce his economic and political program for the strategic development of Russia. The essential elements of this program, as Vladimir Putin has said on more than one occasion, include overcoming the crisis of power, making the power hierarchy function efficiently again throughout Russia, and improving relations between the center and the regions. Some Russian politicians believe that solving these tasks will lead to the emergence of an authoritarian tendency in Russia’s development. Others hope that the democratic potential of Russian society will be fully realized.

At the beginning of May, the new Russian Federation president put anend to the period of anticipation. He announced the formation of seven federal districts headed by seven presidential representatives, along with a group of draft laws envisaging changes in the relationshipbetween the Center’s power institutions and regional power structures, and new principles for forming the Federation Council. But only the future will tell whether the Kremlin, having begun to establish a new system for governing the country and its new administrative divisions, will realize its stated ideas.


How efficiently the power institutions work throughout Russia depends to a significant extent on the situation in Moscow: For many years the regional elites have been exploiting the contradictions between different branches of the federal authorities to redistribute jurisdiction, rights and ownership in favor of the regional authorities. The parliamentary and presidential elections in December and March have brought about major changes in Russia’s political and economic life.

The elections to the State Duma led, first, to the eradication of the substantial left-wing majority in the lower house of the Federal Assembly which was capable of seriously hindering the Kremlin in implementing its economic projects: the KPRF and its allies now control just under one third of deputy votes. Second, the regional authorities did not secure as many seats in the Russian parliament as they had hoped–only some ninety deputies. The influence of the regional lobby was reduced further when these deputies split between the Fatherland-All Russia faction, led by Yevgeny Primakov and sympathetic towards Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, and the Russian Regions group headed by Oleg Morozov, which is geared towards the Russian provincial elite. Third, the Yabloko faction–the “intransigent democratic opposition”–saw its numbers fall to twenty-one deputies. It looks as though the political marginalization of Grigory Yavlinsky’s faction, which began during the last few months of the previous Duma when the pro-communist and pro-government factions managed to find a way to cooperate which allowed them to adopt the resolutions they needed, is developing into a definite trend. Fourth, after losing out in the battle to control the post of speaker in the State Duma and the chairs of the leading parliamentary committees, the Union of Right Forces has been demonstrating its loyalty to the Kremlin in the hope of being called upon when there is a vote on important market legislation. Fifth, in the lower house of the Federal Assembly a powerful pro-Kremlin bloc of deputies has been formed, made up of Unity and the People’s Deputy group, controlling a third of parliamentarians.

Consequently, the outcome of the vote on any bill debated in the State Duma depends on the position adopted by these deputies. By swinging towards the KPRF and Agrarian-Industrial Group or towards SPS and Yabloko they are able to block or push through any decision of thelower house of the Federal Assembly. In other words, major parliamentary decisions–rather than routine ones–may be initiated and pushed through only by the Kremlin or the White House, but not by the KPRF or the “young reformers.”

The Federation Council, which used to try and exploit the image of the “ultimate state authority,” and was critical of the Russian president, has suddenly become much less politically active. The controllabilityof the current complement of deputies means that the Kremlin no longer needs the upper house as much as it did to neutralize any excessively flamboyant resolutions from the Duma. Federation Council leaders, through the speaker Yegor Stroev, continue to put forward proposals on amending the country’s constitution to strengthen the position of representative and legislative bodies within the system of state power. But increasing numbers of “senators” are demonstrating their willingness to support the head of state’s initiatives to strengthenthe power hierarchy.

The institutions of the judiciary have become much stronger, particularly the Constitutional Court, in view of the fact that Vladimir Putin has on a number of occasions spoken of the importance of bringing regional constitutions, statutes and legislation in line with the Basic Law of the Russian Federation and with federal legislation. Even the authorities in Tatarstan, with whom relations have long been structured along the lines of a confederation, have recently indicated that they are prepared to begin amending the republic’s legislation. The new leaders of the executive attach great importance to tightening up executive discipline, and are keen to prevent the work of the state apparatus from being muddled by outside pressure. The influence of the oligarchs on officialdom can still be felt, but it is on a much smaller scale. The fear is growing among Russia’s bureaucrats that if cases of lobbying for the interests of this or that oligarchic structure are exposed, they may be punished, and charges may even be brought against the guilty party.

However, against a background of economic crisis, it is extremely difficult to maintain a grip on the social, economic and political processes when one only has control of the political levers. It is no coincidence that the Kremlin is trying to gain control not just of political resources but also of economic ones in its desire to increase government regulation of the economy. In Putin’s words, this does not mean direct government intervention in all spheres of the economy, but “the state’s obligation to implement and guarantee those rules and laws which exist in the country.” From this perspective, one can understand why pressure is being applied to UES and Gazprom, and why the role of the state’s representatives in the management of these natural monopolies is being stepped up. And indeed why extra attention is being paid to tax and customs policy and attempts to establish a unified financial space in Russia.

While the federal center is showing tendencies towards greater unity of thought and action, the republic and regional elites have become disjointed and disunited. Firstly, not one of their groups is in a position to influence and control the decision-making process or to guarantee the desired outcome of votes either in the Duma or in the Federation Council.

Secondly, the presidential election caused several key figures in the Russian regions–Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Tatarstan president Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan president Murtaza Rakhimov–to demonstrate their loyalty to the most likely candidate for the top job in the country, realizing that they would have to work alongside the young president for some time to come.

Thirdly, in almost 30 regions there will soon be elections for presidents, administration heads, governors and legislative assembly deputies. Here the recently-elected federal authorities are in a verystrong position, as they can choose either to support that group of theregional elite which is already in power, or to back a different group. This isparticularly significant, given that, fourthly, the heads of the executive in somerepublics and regions have already been elected to their posts twice, and thatthe federal law “On the general principles of organizing the legislative andexecutive organs of state power in the subjects of the Russian Federation” limits theperiod in office of regional executive leaders to two terms. Members of the upper house of the Federal Assembly have already set the wheels in motion to introduce an amendment to this law reversing this limitation.

In order to enlist the support of Moscow, Tatarstan president Shaimiev is holding talks with the Kremlin on changing budget relations between Moscow and the republic to favor the center, and Bashkortostanpresident Rakhimov had already signed an agreement with Putin when he was acting president to set up federal treasury structures in the republic, and he calmly accepted a decree from Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov on the appointment of a new prosecutor for Bashkortostan.


The possible program for restoring control in the country depends onhow the country’s leaders answer the following questions: Has Russia’s economic decline bottomed out? Can we see the first signs that the economy is recovering from the system crisis? Has there been a reconciliation within society? Are the law-enforcement bodies prepared to guarantee public safety and are they capable of minimizing and localizing any possible social unrest?

It is probably premature to say that the social, economic and political situation in the country is more optimistic than it was. Russia’s economy, and consequently public opinion, depends to a great extent on the state of affairs in a very narrow sector of the world economy, mainly related to the fuel and energy complex. As a result, any price fluctuations are capable of influencing the state of Russia’s budgetand of limiting the Kremlin’s scope for political maneuver in a number of areas. Moreover, there are many unresolved issues surrounding relations with those international economic and political structures which have been influencing life in Russia for a decade. Recently international relations have been weighed down by the unresolved conflict in Chechnya.

There were several ways to restore control over the socio-economic and political processes across Russia. One was to amend the constitution or to hold a national referendum on proposed changes. For the federal Center, this alternative had more potential negatives than positives.The procedure for amending the constitution, as outlined in the Basic Law and federal legislation, is multi-staged and requires co-ordinationwith the republican-regional elite. The questions put forward in areferendum are limited both in terms of number and content, and could split the current social base of the president and thereby limit the head ofstate’s room for political maneuver. The second way to restore control over the socio-economic and political processes was to improve legislation. But this route is a rather long one, considering the procedure for moving draft laws through the parliament. What is more, it is highly probable that the changes which would inevitably be introduced into draft legislation by the deputies and senators would emasculate it. A third possible way to restore control would be to re-establish the verticalof executive power. This could be achieved by ensuring that the heads ofthe regions were no longer elected to their posts and by agreementsdelimiting the objects of management and authority between the organs of federaland regional executive power. But this would inevitably lead toconfrontations not only with the republican-regional elites, but with the country’s Constitutional Court, because the existing system of relations between the center and the regions is based on the text of the federal Basic Law, and local constitutions and charters.

The president thus tried to move the republican-regional elite awayfrom direct influence on federal power structures while maintaining the principle of electing the heads of the regional executives and representative-legislative branches. In addition, the very fact that Vladimir Putin went on television to address the nation about thepacket of legislative projects introduced into the State Duma concerning the changes in federative relations is evidence that he is trying to usehis popularity among the people–which has not been used up after the presidential campaign and which multiplies the head of state’sadministrative resources–to overcome possible resistance by the regional-republican elite. It appears that the Kremlin hopes not to lose any time in transforming the head of state’s authority into a positive impulse for the country’s development and, having improved federative relations, to seize the opportunity to quickly mobilize massive management resources for reforming the economy and other spheres. It cannot be ruled outthat the federal Center is, in a similar way, seeking to reduce thepotential resources that regional authorities have in their given regions to organize resistance to the Kremlin initiatives.

According the presidential draft legislation, the governors and legislative assembly heads will appoint their representatives to sit in the Federation Council, but will themselves lose the right to be senators. In addition, the federal Center will receive the right remove governors and dismiss regional legislative assemblies which fail to observe federal law. The regional heads, in turn, will be able toremove heads of local self-government organs. The former presidential representatives in the regions will become deputies to the seven newly-appointed presidential representatives in the seven new federal districts. But now the heads of the presidential administration will appoint the deputy presidential representatives. At the same time,given that the new presidential representative structures in the regions are part of the presidential administration, they do not have the legal right to make administrative and management decisions. Many analystssee this as an attempt by the head of state to optimize the presidential vertical, to give the presidential representatives an extra-territorial character and to remove them from the direct influence of the governors and national republic presidents. These changes contain acontradiction: an appointed official will now have the right to control an electedpolitician. In other words, the institution of the presidential representatives inthe federal districts will become stable only after it is strengthened by a corresponding federal law. This will give the system of presidential representatives the quality of a special state institution designed to ensure that federal policy is carried out in the regions and tocoordinate and manage federal agencies at the local level.

In addition, the draft legislation on removing regional leaderscontains nothing principally new as regards the procedure for dissolving legislative assemblies and removing a region’s highest official. It simply provides additional rights to express one’s initiative in removing people from local power bodies and also federal power bodies.


The heads of the republics and regions have greeted the Kremlin’s initiatives in different ways. Some are hostile to the draft laws and decrees as a whole (in particular, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev), others have openly expressed dissatisfaction (for example, Voronezh Governor Ivan Shabanov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov), and still others are mounting opposition, but not openly (including Komi Republic head Yuri Spiridonov, Novosibirsk Governor Viktor Tolokonsky, Murmansk Oblast Duma Chairman Pavel Sazhinov and Arkhangel Governor Anatoly Yefremov). Farid Mukhametshin, head of the Tatarstan parliament, believes that the right to remove regional heads and dissolve legislative assemblies is “an encroachment on the authority of the [federation] subjects.” The regional leaders believe that as a result of the new measures that not only will they lose the possibility to put regional problems directly before the president and will there be changes in the process of forming the Federation Council, but that they will suffer from changes in the relationship between organs of executive and legislative power in general–meaning thatthe former will be strengthened at the expense of the latter.

Given this, the measures have caused a ferment not only among the senators, but in the ranks of the deputies of the lower house of parliament. In particular, the State Duma’s federation affairscommittee expressed bewilderment over the suggested principles for forming the Federation Council. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a leader of the Russian is Our Home movement and a member of the Duma’s Unity faction, pointed out a number of systemic deficiencies in the draft legislation, mainly connected to the absence of legal mechanisms for realizing the measures contained in the legislation, which, if the laws are hurried through, could lead to “chaos” in relations between the federal center and the regions.

It cannot be ruled out that those who oppose the Kremlin plans will appeal to the Constitutional Court, where they can challenge the very existence of the new federal districts, which are not envisgaged in the constitution. One possible compromise has been suggested by Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalyov and Kemerova Governor Aman Tuleev to form a consultative organ–a State Council–which would include all thetop leaders of the country, republics and regions, and in which theregional heads could put forward their views on important issues to thecountry’s top leadership.

It is worth noting that Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev is certain that the presidential measures regarding federative relations are “not the last,” while a high-level presidential administration official has noted: “The presidential decree on his representatives in the regions is only the beginning of administrative reform. The decree does not solve, but rather raises the problem of reforming thefederative arrangement.” The decree’s main task, this official said, is “to weaken the administrative burden on the federal Center and the federal budget.”

In other words, the real ultimate goals and time-table for the proposed reform of state administration and the system of relations between the center and the regions are absolutely unclear. But it is already possible to say that if the governors and legislative assembly headsare forced out of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliamentwill be weakened. The new representatives in the Federation Council areunlikely to have the same influence as lobbyists or “salesmen” for the regionsand republics that the governors and republic presidents, who have had their ownadministrative resources, have had.

Secondly, as a result of the creation of presidential representativesin the new federal districts, an intermediate administrative link is forming, on which the Center can place responsibility for economic problems if putting the blame on the elected regional structures of executive and representative-legislative authority proves insufficient to reduce social tension. In the view of Vladimir Putin, one of the reasons that the governors and republican presidents should continue to be elected is so that these officials will be responsible for the results of their work to the people who voted for them. Thirdly, the uncertainty concerning the functions of the new presidential representatives, the powers and prerogatives of the heads of the federation subjects and the principles for forming the Federation Council is causing nervousness in the ranks of the regional elite. Before the end of this year, more than 30 regions must hold elections for republican president, governor or adminstration head, plus elections for regional legislative assemblies, councils, Dumas and the mayorships of large cities. The Center can use these elections to make the regional elite more controllable.

In other words, in spite of the fact that much is not known about the Kremlin’s strategic plan of action, and what task, in the finalanalysis, the presidential administration is putting before itself, Vladimir Putin’s initiatives can provide for the fulfillment of tactical goals connected with “curbing” the regional “barons.” But this will hardly ensure a long-term strengthening of the “power vertical” …

Vladimir Alekseevich Mironov is a senior fellow of the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.