Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 152

Observers are split over whether the new State Council will materialize into a serious new organ of state power. The idea–or something like it–has a rather long pedigree in Russia’s post-Soviet history. Various influential politicians and officials proposed something like the State Council in the run-up to the 1996 presidential election, ostensibly as a way to prevent a possible civil war between supporters of then President Boris Yeltsin and his opponents. An echo of the State Council idea could be found in the so-called “Big Four,” the extra-constitutional entity created back in 1997 by then President Boris Yeltsin which included him, then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev. The Big Four, however, turned out to be little more than a part-time talking shop–and some observers believe the newly proposed State Council could have the same fate.

On the other hand, a newspaper claimed today that the Kremlin has far grander plans for the State Council. Segodnya reported that the Kremlin is planning to use its creation as a jumping off point for a cardinal revision of the country’s governmental structures, in the direction of centralizing power under the Kremlin administration. Citing unnamed sources, the paper reported that Putin will most likely head the State Council, and that the deputy chairman of the new body will be Russia’s de facto vice president, with the government (headed by the prime minister) losing power and influence, becoming essentially a “technical sub-division” of the Kremlin administration. The State Council will take over from the Federation Council powers to handle such responsibilities as dispatching military forces abroad, imposing a state of emergency, confirming the budget and scheduling elections. The Security Council, a presidential advisory body, will take charge of issues of a “strategic character,” including those involving the economy, foreign policy, national security and relations among Russia’s regions. Meanwhile, the “power structures”–meaning the armed forces and security services, which are directly subordinated to the president–will be given a freer hand in such areas as keeping tabs on cabinet ministers and other government officials and carrying out “accounting and control” in the economic sphere.

In addition, the State Duma will be reformed by this autumn. The number of Duma seats reserved for deputies elected on party lists will be reduced from 225 to 100-150. On top of that, steps will be taken to reduced the number of political parties in Russia, including a measure that will limit registration to larger political parties–those with a minimum of, say, 5000-7000 members. According to Segodnya, the Kremlin’s goal is to create a two-party system consisting of the pro-Putin Unity party and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Finally, the state will continue to take measures to ensure that the media and business is loyal to the state. The paper reported that Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin has been put in charge of coordinating this action program, and said that its implementation meant that the Yeltsin-era constitution, approved in December 1993 referendum, was in its last days (Segodnya, August 4).

It should be noted that Segodnya is part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group, which has been under pressure from the Kremlin and the law enforcement authorities, and is reportedly the target of a Kremlin-inspired takeover bid by Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly. On the other hand, the paper apparently has good sources, and certainly has a good record of prognostication: It was one of the first media outlets to detail how the Kremlin planned to reduce the power of the regional leaders, including the law ending automatic Federation Council membership for governors and regional legislative assembly heads (see the Monitor, May 11).