Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 162

Russian President Vladimir Putin will sign a decree today forming a new State Council. He announced this yesterday during a trip to Samara Oblast, where he met with the regional leaders who make up the Volga federal district, one of seven new districts he decreed into existence earlier this year, and with his authorized representative in the region, Sergei Kirienko. Putin outlined his plans for the new body–which, he said, will be called the “State Council of the Russian Federation,” rather than the “State Council under the President of the Russian Federation,” as it was originally proposed. The council, he said, will include each of Russia’s eighty-nine regional leaders. Some observers reported earlier this week that only eighty-eight would get seats on the council: Chechnya would be excluded. Putin said that he would head the council, which meet every three months and have a seven-man presidium comprised of regional leaders from each of the seven federal districts. The presidium’s members will rotate every six months.

Putin stressed that the State Council will, for the time being, have a strictly consultative function. He said it would be “improper” to give the council “additional functions” given that the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, will continue to “function fully” until 2002. By that year, according to a law promulgated by Putin earlier this year and passed by the parliament, the regional governors, presidents and legislative assembly heads will lose their Federation Council seats, but will appoint representatives to sit in the Federation Council. The regional legislative assembly heads will not get seats on the State Council (see the Monitor, August 31). Putin hinted that the council could be given greater power in the future, telling the Volga regional leaders: “We will decide together what will happen next” (Russian agencies, August 31; Moscow Times, Vremya novosti, September 1). The Gazeta.ru website interpreted this comment as a hint that Putin in fact plans eventually to amend the country’s constitution to take the State Council into account (Russian agencies, August 31). Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov reportedly pushed for giving the State Council greater powers and constitutional status (see the Monitor, August 31). Another powerful regional leader, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, said yesterday that he hoped the council would, in time, be given more powers. Tatarstan falls within the Volga federal district, and Shaimiev was one of the regional leaders in Samara to meet with Putin (Russian agencies, August 31).

According to one interpretation, Putin decided to make concessions to the regional leaders (agreeing to seat all eighty-nine on the State Council, hinting that its authority will be increased in the future, and so on) but now expects concessions from them–specifically, an agreement to bring the laws in their regions into line with federal law. Indeed, two of the regions represented at yesterday’s meeting in Samara, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, have the greatest number of local laws in violation of federal legislation. If these and other regions do not keep up their end of this bargain, Putin will soon have a powerful means of punishing them: According to another of his initiatives voted into law earlier this year, Putin will have, as of next February, the right to remove regional leaders who violate federal laws (Kommersant, September 1).