Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 37

Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has angered some of Russia’s regional leaders by urging constitutional changes which would dispense with popular elections for governors. He made his suggestion on February 21 during a conference in St. Petersburg of the “North-West” interregional association, which is made up of the heads of ten Russian regions. Primakov called for “a rigid vertical system of authority” between Moscow and the regions, and urged that the “local elective bodies should elect governors from among candidates proposed by the president” and that the resignation of governors “should be based on the same scheme.” The chain of command between the center and the regions, he said, should be “like a solid line, not a dotted line” (Russian agencies, February 21).

Yesterday Primakov again shook up the ten regional leaders attending the interregional association’s conference. He declared that Russia had too many regions, and that the eight interregional associations now in Russia have more of a future both economically and politically than do Russia’s constitutionally mandated eighty-nine regions (Russian agencies, February 22).

According to one newspaper, Primakov’s comments were not well received by the attending governors, who, in private discussions “in the corridors,” expressed indignation that Primakov wanted to take their powers away. The paper also reported that many regional leaders, provoked by the prime minister’s suggestions, countered with complaints that the Center was using the income and value-added taxes to redistribute revenues for its own benefit and at the expense of the regions. Novgorod regional Governor Mikhail Prusak reportedly made the harshest comments, and even reprimanded Primakov for interrupting him (Kommersant daily, February 23). It should be noted that the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, which is made up of regional leaders, recently passed the Primakov government’s 1999 budget, which included the tax proposals the governors are now complaining about.

Primakov’s proposed constitutional changes concerning the governors and the regions were criticized–albeit gently–by other leading Russian politicians. Vladimir Ryzhkov, who leads the Russia is Our Home faction in the State Duma, said the idea of selecting governors was “understandable” but “practically impossible” to implement. Ryzhkov said that there have been many cases in which regions have tried to weaken Russian statehood and passed laws violating the constitution. While calling these developments “threatening,” Ryzhkov said that Primakov’s initiatives would not pass, either in the regions or in the Federation Council. Ryzhkov said the “vertical of power” should be strengthened “through constructing a balanced system of institutions of power, closer cooperation between the government and parliament, strengthening the federal organs in general.” Even Oleg Morozov, the head of the Russian Regions faction in the State Duma, said that that while he supported Primakov’s method of choosing governors, it would currently be “very complicated” to change the constitution in this direction (Russian agencies, February 23).