There are growing indications that the Kremlin’s centralization measures may soon move well beyond what it has thus far made public, including the plan to make the country’s governors presidential appointees. In addition, a leading newspaper has reported what it claims lies behind these measures: a plan to allow Vladimir Putin to continue as the country’s leader beyond his second and final constitutionally mandated presidential term by turning Russia into a parliamentary republic and putting him in as prime minister.
On October 12, Omsk Oblast’s legislative assembly appealed to the State Duma to extend the “power vertical” to the local level so that mayoral elections, like those for Russia’s governors, can be abolished. Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev also said he backed the idea of giving the president the power to appoint Russia’s mayors (Vremya novosti, October 12).
The Omsk initiative came on the heels of comments by Dmitry Rogozin, leader of the left-nationalist Rodina (Motherland) party, who predicted in an interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta that the president would be granted the power to appoint mayors. “It is necessary not only to appoint governors, but to make it so that there are not the traditional conflicts between the mayor of the [regional] administrative center and the head of the region that we see in practically every region,” Rogozin said. “In order to avoid this, it is logical to extend the vertical to the level of the mayors of [regional] capital cities. They should also be appointed by the president” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 11). Even prior to the Omsk demarche and the publication of Rogozin’s interview, various media had reported that a bill doing away with elections for mayors of larger cities was being drafted. According to some reports, these mayors would be appointed either by the president or by the regional governor (see EDM, October 8).
Rogozin further predicted that the Kremlin would move to redraw Russia’s political map through a consolidation of its 89 regions. “I believe that in the final analysis we will have around 30 Russian Federation subjects,” he said. “And this reform will take place immediately after the governors are reappointed. Realistically, in my opinion, the reform concerning the consolidation of the regions will take place after January 1, 2006” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 11).
The Kremlin, it should be noted, has already set out to merge some of Russia’s regions and territories: Perm Krai, comprised of the current Perm Oblast and the Komi-Permyaks Autonomous District, will come into being on December 1, 2005. A framework agreement was signed not long ago to merge Krasnoyarsk Krai with the Tiamyr and Evenk autonomous districts, and there are also plans to merge Irkutsk Oblast with the Ust-Ordynsk Buryat Autonomous District and Tyumen Oblast with the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, among other possible mergers. Still, these plans are far less sweeping than what Rogozin is predicting.
It should be noted that Rogozin is not alone in predicting that the Kremlin will move to consolidate Russia’s regions. Stanislav Belkovsky, who heads the National Strategy Council think tank, predicted last month that Putin would follow up his plan for appointing governors with initiatives to appoint the mayors of large cities and consolidate Russia’s regions (see EDM, September 24). Both Rogozin and Belkovsky, it should be noted, are said to have close Kremlin connections.
In addition, deputy Kremlin administration chief Vladislav Surkov obliquely hinted at a redrawing of Russia’s political map in his controversial interview published in Komsomolskaya pravda on September 29. In it, Surkov evinced perplexity and annoyance at the continued existence in Russia of ethnic republics (there are 21 such republics, and included among them are Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Tatarstan, and Kalmykia). “Western politicians need to know that Russia is the only federation in the world whose subjects can have the status of national republics,” Surkov said. “I think Washington would understand us better if the composition of the United States included, for example an Afro-American Republic or a Hispano-Jewish Autonomous Okrug.” Surkov also accused unnamed Western decision-makers of seeking “the destruction of Russia and the filling of its huge area with numerous dysfunctional quasi-state formations” (see EDM, October 1).
Perhaps the most significant speculation concerning the Kremlin’s moves to centralize power was offered today (October 14) by Nezavisimaya gazeta. Citing unnamed Kremlin sources, the paper reported that all of these measures are part of a Kremlin plan that has existed at least since the fall of 2003 to create “a unitary state with an irremovable leader who is elected not by the citizens, but by the parliamentary majority. That program is calculated for four years and must be completed before the end of Vladimir Putin’s current term.” A similar scenario involving Putin assuming the post of prime minister in a parliamentary republic was put forward earlier this month by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Center of Elite Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Sociology Institute (RBC daily, October 6).