Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 172

Prime Minister Primakov has rejected calls for Russia’s eighty-nine republics and regions to be redivided into a dozen or so big administrative units. He told journalists on September 18 that while the idea was “reasonable… eighty-nine is too many,” and such a reform would be too contentious at a moment when Russia is facing a serious financial crisis (Russian agencies, September 20). The idea has been put forward repeatedly by Liberal Democratic leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and was repeated last week by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Such a reform would, however, be fiercely opposed both by Russia’s ethnically based republics and by many of the krais and oblasts, which prize their hard-won autonomy. The Republic of Tatarstan, for example, insists that, since the collapse of the USSR, it has regained the sovereign statehood it lost to the armies of Ivan the Terrible in 1552. Primakov said it would be “counterproductive” for his fledgling government to embark of policies that would split society and distract Russia from essential economic reforms.

Many analysts argue that Russia could be governed more efficiently both if it were broken up into larger administrative units and if all the provinces were placed on an equal footing vis-a-vis the federal government, with a single set of rules applicable to all. This would replace the present system–of individually negotiated power-sharing treaties between the center and the regions–which lacks transparency and gives rise to endless leapfrogging as regions try to negotiate preferential conditions, especially as regards taxation. To complicate matters, the bilateral treaties are backed up by numerous supplementary agreements between the center and regions, details of which are rarely published. Under the previous government there was much discussion of moving to a general set of rules applicable to all regions. This provoked strong opposition from the more powerful regions and republics, and Primakov is clearly unwilling to revive the debate at present.