Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 161

President Vladimir Putin has reportedly approved a draft presented to him by the Kremlin’s legal experts of a decree creating a new State Council, and will sign both the decree and corresponding regulations as early as the beginning of September (Segodnya, Obshchaya gazeta, August 31). According to these latest reports, the form the council will take represents something of a compromise between the country’s regional leaders, who pushed for its creation, and the Kremlin. Most of the regional leaders–reportedly with the exception of a small group led by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov–have agreed that the State Council will not be formally enshrined in the country’s constitution, meaning that that document will not have to be amended. They also agreed that the council will have a consultative role rather than independent decisionmaking authority and will meet to discuss certain important but unspecified issues only when the need arises. Earlier, some observers had predicted that the State Council would take over from the Federation Council–the upper chamber of the Russian parliament–key powers, including the right to dispatch military forces abroad, impose a state of emergency, confirm the budget and schedule elections (see the Monitor, August 4).

On the other hand, while the Kremlin initially suggested that only the leaders of the country’s more influential regions would sit on the council, Putin has apparently agreed to include the heads of all the regions, except Chechnya. This was apparently a bone of contention for the regional governors and republican heads, who, according to a decree signed by Putin earlier this year, will no longer have automatic membership in the Federation Council. As one observer put it, the regional leaders saw as their crucial task retaining political influence by maintaining a united presence in at least one federal body (Obshchaya gazeta, August 31). The idea of a State Council was first broached by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev in May (see the Monitor, May 25).

The regional leaders have urged that along with themselves, the State Council should include the president (who will head it), the prime minister, the speakers of both houses of parliament and the heads of the regional legislative assemblies. The latter were, until Putin’s recent federative reforms, automatic members of the Federation Council. It is not clear, however, that the Kremlin will agree to have them on the State Council. While the State Council head–that is, Putin–will not have a deputy, as some observers previously predicted, the State Council will reportedly have a secretary and a seven-man presidium. According to one report, Putin has already asked former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to serve as secretary, and Kremlin advisers have given the head of a state a short list of candidates for the seven presidium seats. These include Shaimiev, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, Rostov Governor Vladimir Chub, Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev, Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin and Yamalo-Nenetsk Governor Yuri Neelov (Segodnya, August 31). However, according to another report, if the State Council does have a presidium, its membership will not be permanent (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 30).

Even if the State Council comes into being in a watered-down form, some observers remain in doubt about its efficacy and question whether it is compatible with democracy. A leading newspaper headlined its article devoted to the State Council: “Another cumbersome structure to improve the lives of Russians?” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 30). In an interview published yesterday, Sergei Rogov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences USA/Canada Institute, criticized Putin for transforming the Federation Council into an un-elected body, and warned that both this change and the creation of the State Council resembled “an attempt to create a certain type of party activist, to which we were accustomed in the Soviet period” (Tribuna, August 30). The State Council will reportedly hold its meetings in the Kremlin hall formerly used for Soviet Communist Party Central Committee plenums (Segodnya, August 31).