On May 21, members of the Federation Council met with the heads of Russia’s regional legislative assemblies to set up a new body called the Council of Legislators. The new council, which will be a consultative organ uniting the heads of the country’s regional legislatures, now exists under the auspices of the Federation Council and is headed by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov. Lyubov Sliska, first vice speaker of the State Duma, is the deputy head and Aleksandr Troshin, vice speaker of the Federation Council, is its senior secretary (Russian agencies, May 21). Troshin said in an interview with Kommersant that the new council’s tasks are to strengthen cooperation between legislators and improve the quality of their new work, and that it will serve as a forum for developing common positions on various issues. In essence, the Council of Legislators will be a kind of second State Council, Troshin said–referring to the Kremlin consultative body created in 2000 and consisting of the heads of the regions–but will be more democratic (Kommersant, May 21).
President Vladimir Putin welcomed the creation of the new group, telling a session of the Federation Council that legislators were insufficiently careful about the decisions they made. “Laws change even before they come into force,” the president said. “This applies to both federal laws and laws of the Federation subjects…. Legislators at all levels… need to overcome these deficiencies” (ORT, May 21). Putin’s blessing of the new council was significant, as was the fact that he promised to consider “raising the status” of the Council of Legislators. Indeed, it turns out that Putin will chair the new council’s first session in the Kremlin this coming autumn, and that its status will be changed to a consultative organ under the president (Vremya MN, May 22).
Observers believe that the Kremlin wants to use the council for several specific tasks. One is to stop the wave of local legislation that threatens to split the country. In this regard the new council will allow Kremlin officials to propagandize the most “sound” versions of regional legislation. As Sergei Mironov put it, the council will help achieve “a certain unification of legislative decisions.” The new council’s second task will be to win support for legislation drafted by the commission on delimiting authority between the levels of power, which is headed by Kremlin deputy chief of staff Dmitry Kozak and which is due to complete its work by June 1 (Polit.ru, May 24).
The Kremlin may intend to use it to achieve one other goal–to continue the destruction of the regions’ internal unity by establishing separate relations with the various subjects of regional politics. This tactic proved its effectiveness earlier, when the president appropriated the governors’ right to remove mayors of regional capitals, thereby creating a powerful and independent opposition to the governors within the regions, one that is partly oriented toward Moscow, and essentially destroying the basis for the governors’ monopoly on regional power. Now the Kremlin, having fulfilled its two-year-old promise to create a consultative organ consisting of the heads of regional legislative assemblies, has come up with a second tool with which to employ a divide-and-conquer strategy in the regions.
Still, it is far too early for the Kremlin to declare victory in its ongoing power struggle with the regions. The regional elites remain strongly consolidated. Some members of the Council of Legislators have already indicated they will use the new structure for their own purposes. For example, Farit Mukhametshin, speaker of the State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan, has said there is no need to “overburden” the center with powers. His colleague from Omsk Oblast, Vladimir Varnavsky, suggested delegating some of the powers to the federal districts, where the regional authorities have already smoothed out relations with the presidential representatives (Vremya Novostei, May 22). All of this suggests that the Council of Legislators will be less an instrument in the hands of the Kremlin for imposing orders in the regions than another arena for the battle between the center and the regions.
KURGANSK OBLAST SLATED FOR OUTSIDE MANAGEMENT.