Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 173

Following the Russian parliament’s summer recess, the process of bringing the laws of the country’s republics and regions into line with federal norms has begun again in earnest. President Vladimir Putin kicked the process off when he divided Russia into seven federal districts in the spring. These new administrative units drew up lists of regional legislation which required amendment. After that, regional legislators were instructed to take the necessary steps to bring their laws into line with the center.

If official information is to be believed, this process is progressing well.Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin claimed last week that more than 1,000 local laws restricting trade and business had already been repealed on the demand of Putin’s representatives to the federal districts (Russian agencies, September 12). According to Dmitri Kozak, deputy head of the presidential administration, the Urals federal district is leading the way: There, about a quarter of the district’s 1500 laws are not in accord with federal requirements.

The presidential representative’s aides have drawn up a timetable for what they have to accomplish. It has been supplemented with protocols, each coordinated with the governors of the regions belonging to the Urals district. On September 12, the Kurgan Oblast Duma amended six regional laws while, at the end of the month, the Tyumen Oblast Duma is to consider amendments to forty-two local legislative acts. In October, the Sverdlovsk Oblast legislative assembly is expected to amend six local laws (Russian agencies, September 15).

Leonid Drachevsky, presidential representative to the Siberian federal district, says he is confident that the regions in his district will have brought their laws into line by the end of the year (Russian agencies, September 15). In practice, however, things are not always so easy. Kozak had to admit, for example, that while everything was going to plan in the Urals, the situation was “much more complicated” in the Volga and Siberian federal districts (Russian agencies, September 15).

On the one hand, Sergei Kirienko’s team–Kirienko is the president’s representative in the Volga district–has already scored some impressive successes. Tatarstan’s State Council has examined and acted on twelve protests from the republic’s prosecutor over illegal laws. Amendments have been passed to laws “On licensing,” “On fire safety,” “On culture,” and “On privatization of the housing fund.” Meanwhile, the State Assembly of the Republic of Marii El has adopted in the first reading a law “On amendments to the Marii El Constitution” and annulled a further ten republic laws, including those “On land reform,” “On taxes and payments” and “On levies charged under licensing for the processing of confiscated ethyl spirit, alcohol- and spirit-containing products” (Russian agencies, September 16).

On the other hand, the president’s representatives have run into resistance and animosity in other districts. Enver Albyakimov, head of government in Chuvashia, accused the president’s men of rushing about like headless chickens, frantically trying to show how busy and effective they are (“Business-Sreda” [Cheboksary], September 14). The regional authorities in Saratov Oblast are strongly resisting federal efforts to force Governor Dmitri Ayatskov to bring his pet law into line with federal legislation. This is the path-breaking legislation allowing the free sale and purchase of land. The Monitor’s correspondent is reliably informed that the Saratov authorities are determined to fight efforts to get them to change the law all the way to the Constitutional Court. So far, too, the Saratov prosecutor’s office has failed to persuade the local courts to disband the Saratov Oblast Security Council–which, according to prosecutors, infringes the authority of its federal analogue (Russian agencies, September 12).

Kirienko may yet have to back down in Saratov just as he has in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, where he has been forced to refer particularly contentious issues to conciliation commissions (Russian agencies, September 12). In those republics, Kirienko announced that a number of republic laws which “outstrip federal legislation” would be absolved from correction and might even serve as models for federal legislation. Kirienko has also done a deal with Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the Public Foundation on Legislative Initiatives.

According to Krasheninnikov, who also heads the State Duma’s legislative committee, the foundation is working out ways for regional legislation that is more progressive or more efficient than existing federal legislation to be used a model. If the foundation confirms the soundness of a regional law, Krasheninnikov will use his position to ensure that it brings the law up for discussion in the State Duma (“Vremya i dengi” [Kazan], September 13).

This is maverick behavior for a presidential representative–if only because Russian law has not endowed Krasheninnikov’s foundation with the right of legislative initiative. Moreover, Putin’s declared aim is to turn Russia into “a single economic and legal space” by bringing regional legislation into line with existing federal law, not by encouraging legislative innovation, however “progressive.”

What seems to have happened is that the Kremlin has gone as far as it can at present in disciplining the regions. Now the president’s representatives are having to think about avoiding being drawn into open confrontation with unpredictable consequences. To all appearances, the problems described above are not exclusive to the Volga district. In Moscow, for example, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s administration has flatly refused to abandon its Soviet-style system of registering inhabitants, even after being ordered to do so by the Constitutional Court. It seems safe to assume that there are analogous situations in other federal districts, and that the situation in the Volga district has become a focus of attention only because Putin’s representative to the region is Kirienko, who operates in a manner open to the press. It is worth noting, however, that even in the Volga district information about relations between district leaders and those of the regions making up the district is hard to come by and is reported mainly by the regional media. The national press comments on this issue only very reluctantly.