Robert Orttung, senior editor of the East-West Institute’s Russian Regional Report, believes that regional governors will continue to gain strength as a result of the ongoing economic and political crisis in Russia. The federal center, however, still has some important factors working in its favor. These were the conclusions of the paper he delivered on September 27 to the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Boca Raton, Florida. Monitor correspondents attended the convention.
Orttung noted that whenever the federal center is weak, regional leaders try to take more power for themselves–a pattern that occurred in 1991, 1993 and now in 1998. It is not merely that power ebbs from Moscow to the regions. At least some regional leaders themselves play an active role in this process. And there is little doubt that the federal center is weaker now than at any time in the past decade. The federal government has been ineffective and divided all year. The Primakov cabinet, when it is eventually assembled, is not likely to significantly reverse this trend. Primakov’s decision to appoint some governors directly to the presidium of the federal government is a sign of his concern over the center’s inability to manage the regions.
The presidential administration had previously been a source of vigorous efforts to rein in the regions, especially when Anatoly Chubais was chief of staff. But it no longer has any figures of independent political standing who could play such a role. Last week Oleg Sysuev, former mayor of Samara, was named as first deputy chief of the presidential staff in charge of regional policy. Sysuev is a relatively weak figure who had been nearly invisible during his eighteen months as deputy prime minister in charge of social policy.
Finally, at federal level, the State Duma has shown no interest in taking responsibility for the affairs of state. While it likes to fulminate about the possible break-up of Russia, it is highly unlikely to play a leading role in trying to forge a more effective regional policy.
…FOR THE GOVERNORS, A CHANCE TO CONSOLIDATE THEIR OWN POWER.