Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 144

On July 26 the Federation Council will debate the law “On the procedure for forming the Federation Council” in the version prepared by the conciliation commission (Radio Ekho Moskvy, July 20). The State Duma passed the bill on July 19 with 307 deputies’ votes in favor, 88 against and 5 abstentions. As was the case in the voting for the original version of the law, therefore, the number of deputies supporting the bill was just above the 300 necessary to overcome a Federation Council veto.

The Duma easily overrode the upper chamber’s veto of another of President Vladimir Putin’s proposed laws, that giving the president the right to dismiss regional governors and to dissolve local legislative assemblies. The vote was 362 for the law, 35 against and 8 abstentions (Russian agencies, July 19).

On the whole, the media described the Duma vote as a clear victory for the president over the governors. The newspaper Vremya-MN said it was yet another demonstration of the Duma’s devotion to Putin, who would now have a Federation Council “convenient for him.” Novae izvestia expected the Federation Council to appeal to the Constitutional Court but said that there was no chance the court would find in favor of the governors (Novye izvestia, July 20). Segodnya wrote that the members of the Federation Council were “expecting to outlive the Duma, given that the Kremlin is reportedly planning to dissolve the lower chamber and hold new elections according to a new law sharply reducing the number of party mandates.” In that case, wrote Segodnya, the Kremlin would secure a Duma “totally without opposition.” But the regional governors would be harder to get rid of, Segodnya predicted, and would not be driven from Moscow even by means of the “soft rotation” compromise being put forward by the Kremlin (Segodnya, July 20).

There was speculation that the Federation Council would try to cut an eleventh-hour deal (NTV, July 23). Aleksandr Kotenkov, the president’s outspoken representative to the Duma, expressed alarm that the upper chamber might threaten to veto Part Two of the new Tax Code unless the Kremlin softened its assault on the powers of the governors (Russian agencies, July 19 and 20). Members of the Federation Council made no attempt to disavow such speculation. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov described the government’s proposals for the tax code and the 2001 budget contingent upon it as “exceptionally dangerous and harmful.” Criticizing the planned 30:70 division of tax revenues between the regions and the federal center, respectively, Luzhkov warned that this would make all of Russia’s regions, without exception, dependent on the center for subsidies. Luzhkov said the 50 percent of revenues that the center currently receives ought to be enough for it (Russian agencies, July 19). Samara Governor Konstantin Titov also called the plan to divide tax revenues 30:70 “a serious mistake” (Russian agencies, July 20).

The governors are clearly split over whether to apply their veto power on July 26 to the compromise version of the law on forming the Federation Council. Aleksei Lebed of the Republic of Khakassia threatened that the upper chamber would do just that. In Lebed’s view, “It is politically profitable for us to block this law and return to in the autumn” (Russian agencies, July 20). Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitri Ayatskov, however, urged the Federation Council not to use its veto power on the grounds that the Duma and the president had already “met the senators half way” (NTV, July 20).

Nikolai Federov, president of Chuvashia, who has earned a reputation as one of the main critics of Putin’s policy, said he did not rule out the possibility that the Federation Council would appeal to the Constitutional Court against Putin’s bill empowering the president to remove regional heads from office. “The Constitutional Court can determine whether the president’s proposed bill are really amendments to the constitution,” Federov said. “It is illegal to amend the constitution by means of regular legislation.”

All this suggests that it may be premature to speak of the governors’ defeat. On the contrary, the governors still have levers by which to put pressure on the president. It remains however to be seen on July 26 whether the governors can muster the determination to use their powers in this way.