Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 103

President Vladimir Putin’s push to transform Russia’s federative relations is moving forward quickly. The Prosecutor General’s Office yesterday announced that it is setting up offices in each of the seven new federal districts, which are headed by presidential representatives. In addition, there are signs that the Kremlin will take further steps to empower the presidential representatives. Yesterday, Pavel Krasheninnikov, the former justice minister who now heads the State Duma’s legislative committee, said yesterday that other law enforcement structures, including the Justice Ministry, should establish offices in the seven districts as a way to “strengthen federalism and legality on the entire territory of the Russian Federation.” Krasheninnikov, a member of the pro-government Union of Right-Forces, said that these measures fully comply with current legislation and denied that they would be aimed at taking power and authority away from the regions. Likewise, Dmitri Medvedev, first deputy head of the presidential administration, said that Putin’s sweeping plan to reorganize federative relations does not violate the Russian constitution or require changes in the country’s Basic Law (Russian agencies, May 24).

Despite these reassurances, the plan’s apparent goal–to set up structures directly subordinated to the Kremlin which circumvent and supercede parallel structures belonging to the regional governments–would be a cardinal change in Russia’s political system. The Interior Ministry and the tax police reportedly plan to follow the lead of the Prosecutor General’s Office and set up offices in the headquarters of each of the seven districts. This will rob the heads of the constituent regions of key levers and attributes of power–such as the Interior Ministry’s OMON special police units, which have often been the decisive factor in “settling” property disputes. All of this helps explain why, according to the same report, regional leaders who initially welcomed Putin’s steps to strengthen the presidential “power vertical” are starting to have second thoughts (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 25). Many regional leaders clearly cannot be happy over a reform program which threatens to turn them into, as a newspaper put it, “ordinary medium-rank officials” (Moskovsky komsomolets, May 24). Various regional leaders have openly expressed unhappiness with the Kremlin’s draft bill to replace the governors and local legislative assembly heads with their own appointees on the Federation Council and thus deprive the regional leaders of immunity from criminal prosecution. Alexander Nazarchuk, speaker of the Altai region’s legislative assembly, said on May 23 that the sitting members of the Federation Council will “insist” on maintaining membership in the council (Russian agencies, May 23).

The regional leaders, with their obvious vested interest, are not alone in expressing their reservations. A leading Moscow journalist, Yulia Latynina, suggested this week that Putin’s plans boiled down to substituting “the governors’ arbitrary rule” with “centralized arbitrary rule” (Moscow Times, May 24). Likewise, a leading liberal newspaper described Putin’s federative reform measures as “a series of blows against the independence…of the regional leaders, who under the conditions of the extreme weakness of the legislative and judicial branches are the single real counterweight to the authoritarianism of the Center” (Obshchaya gazeta, May 25).