We live in a federation,” said Viktor Ozerov, a representative from Khabarovsk Krai to the newly reconstituted Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament. That simple proposition is not so certain.

After turning back a parliamentary rebellion in October 1993, Boris Yeltsin began to rent political support by hiving off bits of the Russian state. Just as he gave industries away to “businessmen” who offered him campaign cash and media backing, he gave sovereign attributes away to regional strongmen who offered him votes and peace. In February 1994 Yeltsin signed his first “power sharing treaty” … with the Republic of Tatarstan. The treaty, in form identical to one between sovereigns, gave Tatarstan ownership of its petroleum reserves and industrial companies (including Tatneft and the KamAZ truck plant) as well as the rights to retain most of its tax revenue and to pursue its own foreign-trade policy. By 1998, Tatarstan had taxes on imports from other parts of the Federation, its own scrip to substitute for Russian currency, its own language policy and its own passports.

The federal government under Yeltsin concluded similar (though generally less sweeping) agreements with more than half of Russia’s regions.

Well, the devolution is over. Under President Putin, the center is reeling the regions back in. New laws removed governors and legislative leaders from the Federation Council and replaced them with local appointees, who often have few ties to the regions they represent (see Russia’s Week, February 6, 2002). The same reform package gave the president power both to remove elected governors charged (not necessarily convicted) with serious crimes and to dismiss elected regional legislatures that pass laws that conflict with federal statutes. And now the power sharing treaties are under attack.

The future is revenue sharing, not power sharing. Dmitry Kozak, head of a presidential commission set up last September to examine federal-regional relations, talked in a recent speech about the connections among responsibility, authority and money. If the federal government has to provide local services in a poor or profligate region, he suggested, it should gain authority as it picks up responsibility. That concept would unwind the treaty structure in short order. Besides, said Kozak, at least twenty regions–Russia has eight-nine–want the power sharing treaties killed, because they discriminate against some regions in favor of others. Sergei Mironov, the new head of the Federation Council agrees. The treaties, he said, “have no future.”