The President’s Representatives: “Moscow’s Men” in the Regions
By Nikolai Petrov
Until quite recently, when the governors of Russia’s regions were still being appointed by the president, the governors were seen as "the president’s men in the provinces." Now that they have all been elected and are no longer part of the president’s "chain of command," this function has passed to the president’s representatives in the regions.
The institution of presidential representative (PR) was instituted shortly after the August 1991 coup. The first PRs were appointed at the same time as the regional governors. Like the governors, many of the first PRs came from the ranks of the deputies to Russia’s Supreme Soviet. At that time, governors and PRs were almost equal in status; in some cases, deputies were even allowed to choose between the two offices.
In those early days, PRs were appointed to all of Russia’s oblasts and krais. None was appointed to any of Russia’s ethnically-based republics, the Republic of Chuvashia being the sole exception. (Attempts to put PRs in Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria and other republics met with fierce resistance from local leaders.) By the end of 1991, PRs had been appointed to sixty-two regions.
PRs have never had large staffs — just a small office and a few advisers. Their main strength was that they had direct access to the president.
In the battle that took place between the president and the Supreme Soviet in the fall of 1992, the institution of PR came under ferocious attack. At first, the Supreme Soviet tried to appoint their own representatives to the regions. When that failed, they tried to have the post of PR abolished.
After Yeltsin’s defeat of the legislature, the PRs became a bargaining chip between the president and various regional leaders. Following the presidential decree abolishing the old system of soviets, Sergei Filatov, chief of the presidential administration, threatened that PRs would be appointed to republics that retained the institution of soviets. Though this turned out to be no more than a bluff, it did force a few republics (Bashkortostan, Dagestan and Karelia) to institute the office of president and to hold presidential elections.
In his efforts to win the governors’ loyalty in his various political battles, Yeltsin "sacrificed" a number of his representatives. Inevitably, these were independent-minded PRs who had proved to be a thorn in the side of local leaders. As a result, the more or less independent "Tsar’s men" were gradually replaced with compliant members of the governors’ own teams. Of course, changes in the ranks of PRs also occurred as a result of natural causes and local political crises.
There was a natural rivalry between the PRs and the regional governors. This became especially stark in December 1993, during the elections to the upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council. Many PRs ran in these elections, but only four were elected. Echoes of this fight were heard in the 1996 gubernatorial elections when, in Arkhangelsk and Vladimir Oblasts, PRs entered the race in defiance of orders from above. Both men lost.
Sometimes, the process worked the other way around, especially after governors began to be elected. Thus, Petr Marchenko, former governor of Stavropol Krai who lost a popular election in 1996, was appointed PR to Stavropol and four North Caucasus republics. Aleksandr Kovalev, former governor of Voronezh Oblast, was packed off to be PR in North Ossetia and Ingushetia. In Bryansk Oblast, Vladimir Barabanov made the switch from PR to governor twice, and once in the other direction. After failing to win election in 1993, Nikolai Yudin, former governor of Orel Oblast, took over as PR to the oblast. The last person who moved from governor to PR was Yuri Lebedev, acting governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast until the July 1997 elections.
As the result of all these changes, only twelve of the original PRs were still in place as of March 1998. To compare: thirty-six of the original governors were still in place before the 1996-1997 gubernatorial elections, and twenty after them.
There are now PRs in all of Russia’s provinces except for four republics (Karelia, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan and Yakutia), though there are plans to appoint PRs even there. A search is going on for suitable candidates.
Contrary to initial expectations, the post of PR has turned out to be a dead-end career-wise. The PRs quickly lost all the influence they initially had since they fell between two stools and had no real funding at their disposal. The original PRs — some of whom had been quite influential — were soon replaced by little-known figures.
If one excepts Chechnya and the constellation of federal politicians who have represented the president there at various times, and if one also ignores Boris Nemtsov, who combined the position of PR with that of governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, few PRs have succeeded in breaking into, or returning to, the national political scene. Those who have achieved the feat include the present first deputy chief of the president’s administration, Yuri Yarov, who was briefly PR in St. Petersburg, and two other members of the presidential administration: Sergei Samoilov, former PR in Chita Oblast who now heads the territorial section in the presidential administration, and Anton Fedorov, formerly PR in Samara who is now the liaison between the PRs and the Kremlin. Of the last "major" appointments of former PRs, one may mention Yuri Medvedev from Volgograd, who became first deputy minister of state property.
The move to direct popular election for provincial governors forced the Kremlin to find other ways of maintaining its influence in the regions. With this aim in mind, the center tried to strengthen the institution of PRs — both institutionally and personally. At the beginning of 1997, a special section on coordinating the activity of the PRs was formed in the presidential administration, headed by Anton Fedorov. In June 1997, a new directive was approved: "On the Plenipotentiary Representative of the President of the Russian Federation in a Region of the Russian Federation." (1) This created a threefold framework for center-periphery relations: checking on the execution of the federal budget, monitoring the use of federal property in the regions, and backing up the officials of federal agencies in the provinces.
The PR’s primary task was defined as coordinating the activity of local government agencies. Between thirty and a hundred federal bodies, with several times more employees than the regional governor, operate in each region. (2) Although Moscow pays the salaries of all these officials, their working and living conditions (apartment, office, car) are usually paid for by the local leadership. In an effort to beef up the PR’s coordinating role, boards of federal agencies will be formed in each region, under the leadership of the PR. These boards will include the leaders of the sixteen "most important" agencies. (3) The role of the PRs in personnel issues — in appointments to top posts in federal agencies in the regions — will also increase.
It may be that the real powers of the PRs will be expanded not right away, but gradually, and not for all of them, but on a case by case basis. It must not be forgotten that the governors are likely to oppose any increase in the powers of the PRs. Here, one may recall Saratov Governor Dmitri Ayatskov’s threat to abolish the post of PR in Saratov Oblast. (4)
As well as attempts to strengthen the institution of PRs, personnel changes have also been made. Before an appointee is given real authority as the president’s plenipotentiary representative in a region, steps are taken to ensure that he will not be trampled underfoot by the governor. Here the center faces a serious problem: after a period of "storm and stress," regional elites have consolidated and stabilized in many regions, and few strong and independent people remain who have not joined either the governor’s team or the opposition. In certain regions, therefore, the center has appointed to the post of PR people who already hold other offices. This has happened in Tambov Oblast, for example, where the mayor of the oblast capital, Valentin Koval, has also been given the job of PR.
Primorsky Krai is a special case. Last year, President Yeltsin attempted to circumvent Primorye’s Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko by appointing the regional boss of the Federal Security Service, General Viktor Kondratov, as PR to the region and giving him unprecedentedly broad powers, including control over all of the money flowing into the krai’s budget. (5) Nowhere else have such broad responsibilities been combined. The experiment was not a success, however. Asked early this year to choose between the position of PR and that of security chief, Kondratov asked the president to remove his extraordinary powers. And while other security officials have been named PR — for example, Krasnodar Krai’s Yuri Chervinsky previously headed both state security there and the local tax police — the experiment seems unlikely to be repeated.
The departure of Aleksandr Kazakov from the presidential staff, where he oversaw the regions and had the rank of first deputy chief of the presidential administration, and his replacement by Viktoria Mitina, who is simply a deputy chief, seemed at first to mark a setback in the center’s efforts to strengthen the role of the PR. This did not happen, however. In February this year, there was a meeting of PRs in Moscow. Arising out of that meeting, number of steps are being prepared to strengthen the powers of the PRs. At the same time, it was decided to turn the "Council of Trusted Persons," which Mitina heads, into a permanent body and entrust it with representing the center in the regions.
However, real strengthening of the federal center’s presence in the regions will be possible only if there is political stability in the center itself. Governmental and other crises hinder this aim; national elections are also a destabilizing factor. The center was presented with a window of opportunity following the 1996 presidential elections, but now that window is closing again.
1. Rossiiskaya gazeta, June 16, 1997
2. See the report on the closed meeting of PRs in Volgograd: "Apparat federal’nykh sluzhb budet sokhranen," by A. Serenko in Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony, No. 1, 1997
3. Serenko, op. cit.
4. Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 26, 1997
5. Decree "On the Additional Rights and Duties of the President’s Plenipotentiary Representative in Primorsky Krai," Segodnya, June 6, 1997
Translated by Mark Eckert
Nikolai Petrov is Carnegie Moscow Center scholar-in-residence and leading research fellow at the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He specializes in social-political geography and electoral studies.
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