President Vladimir Putin, who last week signed a decree supporting the creation of an advisory State Council as a bone to proffer Russia’s regional leaders, said yesterday that it would be useful if the new body were given constitutional status. He was quoted as saying that the State Council should be a forum for discussion of initiatives taken by the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, and the government concerning the country’s regions. The head of state also suggested that some of the nonlegislative functions of the Federation Council, the parliament’s upper house, be transferred to the State Council. Earlier this week, a top Kremlin administration official was quoted as saying that Putin would head the State Council, and that one of its functions would be to approve the general parameters of the federal budget (Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 2; Moscow Times, August 4). In addition, a major regional leader, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, said it was “entirely likely” that the State Council would become a “constitutional organ” and that the Federation Council might simply be abolished after the new body comes into being (Segodnya, August 2).
But while the State Council was a concession to the regional leaders, whose powers have been limited by a series of new Kremlin-sponsored law, including one which ended their automatic membership in the Federation Council, a new squabble has broken out over who will have membership in the new State Council. A Kremlin source was quoted as saying the State Council would have only twenty members, some of whom would include Duma leaders and perhaps business leaders. Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of the Kremlin staff, recently said that the regional leaders on the council would be picked according to demographic and economic criteria (Moscow Times, August 4). Chuvashia President Nikolai Federov yesterday sent an open letter to the Kremlin in which, according to the Gazeta.ru news analysis website, he insisted that all eighty-nine regional leaders have State Council membership. The new body, he warned, would otherwise be anticonstitutional–hinting that he and other regional leaders would challenge its decisions in the country’s Constitutional Court. Federov warned the Kremlin that if it used “unconstitutional criteria” to choose which regional leaders would sit in the State Council, it would provoke an increase of “nationalism” and “separatism” in the regions (Russian agencies, August 24). Earlier in the week, Tatarstan’s Mintimer Shaimiev also called for all eighty-nine regional leaders to sit on the State Council (Segodnya, August 2)
STATE COUNCIL: TALKING SHOP OR RADICAL CHANGE?