Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 183

The presidium of Russia’s new State Council met for the first time on September 29 (Russian agencies, September 29). The new body is being set up at President Vladimir Putin’s initiative in an effort to reconcile Russia’s governors to the loss of their seats in the Federation Council, upper chamber of the Russian parliament. The advent of the new institution, however, has boosted the governors’ status as national figures, at least for a while. Most of them are not due to lose their Federation Council seats until January 2002, yet they are already preparing to take their seats in the State Council.

As for the seven regional bosses named to the presidium of the new body, they have significantly increased their role. Such a growth in influence suits neither the Kremlin nor those governors not selected to sit on the presidium. The past week has seen these governors attempt to redress the balance. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov declared that those with seats in the new presidium should step down from the Federation Council before the January 2002 deadline. Vyacheslav Khizhnyakov, the president’s representative in the Federation Council, made a similar suggestion. “Because the presidium of the State Council meets at the same time as the Federation Council, it would make sense [for governors] to sit on only one of these bodies. One should either take decisions or give advice, but not both,” Khizhnyakov declared (Russian agencies, September 26).

Of the seven members of the presidium, only two deigned to reply. Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketsky said that he would be prepared to send a representative to take his place in the Federation Council. But St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev brushed the idea aside, saying that there was “no need to rush” (Russian agencies, September 26). From the point of view of holding on to political advantage, Yakovlev’s instincts are clearly more reliable than Roketsky’s. The status and powers of the State Council have not yet been definitively determined and will in all probability form the subject of backroom bargaining between Putin and the governors for some time to come.

Thus far, the president appears disinclined to give the new body any real power. He said as much during the first meeting of the council’s presidium. On the eve of that meeting, governors said they hoped the session would take up the issues of constitutional reform and the transfer of power from the Federation Council to the State Council (NTV, September 29). When the session opened, however, Putin declared that the council would take the place of neither parliament nor government, but act merely as a consultative body subordinated to himself. Despite its “modest” status, the president said, such a role meant that the new body could exert “considerable influence” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, September 29).

The governors did not take Putin’s disavowals as the last word. Immediately after the meeting of the presidium, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev told journalists that the day’s proceedings had convinced him not only that the new body would be “listened to by all other legal and constitutional institutions” but that it would be capable of “tackling and realizing all constructive suggestions.” By that, Shaimiev said, he had in mind such weighty issues as state-building and the country’s economic, social and political development. Indeed, he hinted, the first steps in this direction had already been taken. “As well as adopting the State Council’s agenda, the presidium discussed the topics that will be brought up in its first session.

These include issues of a “strategic and socio-economic character and the situation with the budget” (Russian agencies, September 29). If this is really what was discussed, Putin’s statement was not a reflection of the true nature of relations between the center and the regions, but instead a face-saving exercise. Shaimiev’s statements, however, could fairly be described the same way. Time will tell which leader’s evaluation was closer to the truth.