Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 179

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov warned a meeting of regional leaders yesterday not to go down the path of “dangerous separatism.” He said the center would not tolerate “illegal and unconstitutional” moves by regional leaders who “display the mentality of feudal princelings.” September tax receipts, Primakov complained, amounted to only half of the planned sum (NTV, BBC, September 29). Primakov said on his appointment that one of his main aims would be preventing the disintegration of the Russian Federation. During Russia’s latest economic crisis, regional governors scrambled to protect their populations from hardship. Many announced unauthorized measures such as withholding tax payments to the center, freezing consumer prices and preventing the export of food from their regions. Many of the governors were not so much grabbing power as desperately trying to cope with the problems in their regions provoked, as they see it, by the incompetence of the central government.

Primakov told the governors that his government is preparing legislation which will make it possible for governors who break the law to be removed from office. Originally, regional governors were appointed directly by President Boris Yeltsin, who also removed them at will. In the course of the last two years, however, all the governors have stood for direct election in their regions. The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that the president still has the right to fire renegade executives, but the claim is on weak legal ground and Yeltsin has not dared to put it to the test. Primakov now intends to fill the vacuum. The obvious solution–a mechanism allowing governors who flout the law to be impeached–is problematic because the upper house of the Russian parliament is made up of governors and regional legislators who would be unwilling to set a precedent by condemning one of their number. Instead it is likely that Primakov’s government will resurrect a draft law of 1993 calling for the Constitutional Court to rule in such cases. That bill was not enacted at the time, but it now seems likely that Primakov will try to get it onto the statute books.

Eduard Rossel, governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast, said he was opposed to the center’s asserting the right to remove governors. In his view, the main problem is not the waywardness of the governors but the vacuum of power in Moscow (NTV, September 29). Rossel knows what he is talking about. He was himself removed from power by Yeltsin in 1993 after he threatened to turn Sverdlovsk Oblast into a Urals republic. He won his post back, however, in a direct election in 1995 and has been in power ever since. The conflict was a landmark in the evolution of the Kremlin’s relations with the regions. Rossel continued to promote the interests of his region, but through cooperation rather than confrontation. In 1996, Sverdlovsk became the first Russian region other than a republic to sign a power-sharing treaty with the federal center.