Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 203

The past week saw a new phase in relations between the Kremlin and Russia’s regional governors. On October 25, opponents of President Vladimir Putin’s centralizing policies suffered an apparent setback when the Legislative Committee of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, decided not to appeal to the Constitutional Court against two Kremlin-initiated laws. The laws in question will empower the Russian president to sack regional governors and dissolve local legislatures if they violate federal laws (Radio Ekho Moskvy, October 25).

The driving force behind the appeal–Chuvash Republic President Nikolai Fedorov–argued that the powers of the Russian president are restricted to those laid down in the constitution. “It follows,” Fedorov said, “that dismissing the heads of regions and dissolving legislative assemblies is an abuse of presidential authority” (Russian agencies, October 24). His fellow-governors, however, did not agree. Instead of appealing to the Constitutional Court, argued Tyumen Oblast’s Leonid Roketsky, governors should come up with their own versions of the laws. The Legislative Committee accordingly decided to set up a working group to propose changes to the presidential drafts (Radio Ekho Moskvy, October 25).

The national media, as is their wont, interpreted this as yet another capitulation by the governors to the federal center. In reality, the situation is more complex. The governors want, above all, not to rock the boat. They prefer to resolve their problems in a small circle rather than in a public forum like the Constitutional Court. After the Kremlin’s recent electoral defeats (see the preceding report), the governors no longer fear its attacks. Instead, they want to cut a deal. Reportedly, the working group has already prepared amendments to present to Putin (Russian agencies, October 25). Other steps are also being taken. The Monitor has learned that the Saratov Oblast Duma has put forward a legislative initiative which would grant governors immunity from prosecution after they leave the Federation Council. Yet Saratov Governor Dmitri Ayatskov, who encouraged Saratov’s Duma to adopt this initiative, was the first to criticize Fedorov for putting on a “political show” in the Federation Council (Russian agencies, October 25).