May 13 marked the first anniversary of President Vladimir Putin’s decree creating seven federal districts each run by a presidential envoy, and the anniversary prompted wide discussion of whether the new buffer between the federal and regional authorities has been a success. According to some observers, including Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, the main problem for the seven new presidential representatives has been the lack of a legislative basis for their work. Stroev last week said that the powers of the presidential envoys should be clearly demarcated, ideally in federal laws (Polit.ru, May 11). Given the absence of such clearly defined powers and authority for the presidential representatives, there is also no single model for how they should work. Indeed, observers have noted several models. One of them, which might be called the “general-governor” model, is exemplified by Konstantin Pulikovsky, presidential representative in the Far Eastern federal district, and Viktor Kazantsev, presidential representative in the Southern federal district. The other model is that of the “political managers,” who are best represented by Sergei Kirienko, presidential representative in the Volga federal district, and, to a less extent Georgy Poltavchenko, presidential representative in the Central federal district, and Pyotr Latyshev, presidential representative in the Urals federal district. All three of these have wound up under the “supervision” of ambitious political heavyweights among the governors in their districts. The third model is the “diplomat-strategist,” represented by Leonid Drachevsky, presidential representative in the Siberian federal district, and Viktor Cherkesov, presidential representative in the Northwestern federal district. These two envoys have remained above local political squabbles, concentrating on strategic questions (Vek, May 11).
Despite these differences, the seven presidential representatives have basically received positive report cards, not only from President Vladimir Putin, who on May 12 told the envoys that they had “on the whole” fulfilled their “priority task” of halting “the processes of disintegration,” but also from some governors and other regional leaders (Russian agencies, May 12). For example, Vladimir Platonov, a Federation Council vice speaker and chairman of the Moscow City Duma, said last week that he thought that presidential power had become “more effective” with the creation the federal districts represented by presidential envoys. He said he was sure that relations between the governors and the envoys were “normal.” For his part, Stroev said he thought that the envoys’ main task was to mediate between the president and the people, conveying the latter’s “expectations and problems” to the former (Polit.ru, May 11).
On the other hand, it would be dangerous to take these expressions of good will too seriously. In fact, relations between the governors and the envoys are far from ideal. For example, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, who was rumored to be under consideration to replace Cherkesov if the latter were promoted into a cabinet or Kremlin post, sharply criticized the institution of the presidential envoy. He said the post was “unnecessary” and categorically rejected the idea that he might join the presidential envoys’ ranks. “There are more than enough controllers without me,” Prusak said, adding that he preferred economic methods to “control” methods (Polit.ru, May 8; Izvestia, May 7).
Other governors have gone further in showing their negative feelings about the presidential representatives. A war has been raging for some time between Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel and Pyotr Latyshev, the Urals district presidential envoy and in recent days has spilled over into the media realm. A powerful regional television channel, called Eurasia, is being created that will provide Rossel with a weapon in his power struggle against Latyshev, who is trying set up his own information empire in the federal district using state television and radio and the Internet (Vremya Novostei, May 7).
In addition, it is no longer simply governors who are resisting the presidential envoys, but regional elites as a whole. The clearest example of this was the hasty creation in Nizhny Novgorod of a movement called “Volya Naroda” (People’s Will), which called on Putin to remove Kirienko as Volga district presidential envoy. The movement began collecting signatures on a petition demanding Kirienko’s removal, which accused the former prime minister of causing the August 1998 default and cutting off power and heating supplies to homes and hospitals in Nizhegorod Oblast this year (Tribuna, May 9). In this case, however, Nizhegorod Oblast Governor Ivan Sklyarov came to Kirienko’s defense (NNS.ru, May 9).
Whatever the case, it is clear that relations between the regional leaders and the seven presidential envoys are unlikely to be smooth anytime in the near future.
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