Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 112

Opposition is mounting against President Vladimir Putin’s plans to impose stricter central control over Russia’s eighty-nine regions. Putin has signed decrees and introduced draft legislation creating seven federal super districts manned by presidential representatives who will ensure regional compliance with federal law; giving the Kremlin the power to oust governors and heads of regional parliaments who break federal law; and changing the way the Federation Council, the upper parliamentary chamber, is formed, so that governors and regional parliamentary heads no longer get council seats automatically and are thus deprived of immunity from criminal prosecution.

Regional leaders spoke up yesterday, strongly criticizing the president’s initiatives. Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, who some observers see as one of the likely first targets of the Kremlin’s expected crackdown on rebellious regional leaders, called the measure giving the federal center the right to remove regional heads a “step backward.” He asked rhetorically why the Kremlin had decided to pick a fight with the governors and change the arrangement of the Russian state now, when there were more pressing tasks, such as improving the economy and fighting corruption. Likewise, Aleksandr Lebed, governor of the Khakhassia region, said that Federation Council members were very “alarmed” over the signs that the country was moving toward becoming unitary rather than a federal state. Lebed admitted, however, that the Federation Council was powerless to prevent the head of state from winning the right to remove regional heads (Russian agencies, June 7). Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, meanwhile, argued that the Federation Council is a “powerful filter” in the political system which prevents the emergence of “extreme situations,” and that changing the way in which the Council was formed would “radically reduce” its political status and authority. He said that while he was a “gosudarstvennik”–an advocate of a strong state–and thus supported Putin’s measures to strengthen state power, giving the head of state the right to remove regional leaders would effectively replace court rulings with political decisions and lead to “arbitrary rule.” Luzhkov, who himself sits in the Federation Council, said he was not worried about the loss of immunity from prosecution, adding that he was against members of parliament being given total “license” (Obshchaya gazeta, June 8).

The Federation Council yesterday called for the creation of a conciliation commission consisting of the president, prime minister and speakers of both houses of parliament, to work on a compromise version of Putin’s federative reforms. The council also passed amendments which would both ensure that the governors would retain immunity from prosecution even if they were removed from the council and give them the right to appoint their representatives to the Council without having to have these representatives approved by regional legislative assemblies. For his part, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev said that he would meet with Putin, presumably to discuss possible compromises. Stroev added that while the system had to be changed, in had to be done “in such a way that the state is strengthened, so that the state wins” (Russian agencies, June 7). Putin has already agreed to the idea of creating a consultative State Council for the regional leaders if they vote in favor of his initiatives. Ingushetia’s Aushev, however, expressed skepticism about the State Council idea, saying that it would be little more than a forum in which to “splash emotions… into the air” (Russian agencies, June 7).