Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 141

The power struggle between President Vladimir Putin’s team and the leaders of Russia’s constituent republics and regions is heating up again. On July 17, the commission charged with delimiting the respective powers of the federal center and the “subjects of the federation” met for the first time. Set up by presidential decree, the commission is chaired by Dmitry Kozak, deputy head of the presidential administration (Russian agencies, July 17). Two days later, Putin addressed the issue during a Kremlin press conference (Polit.ru, July 19). Several regional leaders also made statements. To judge from what was said, the two sides have not yet proceeded to the negotiating phase but are still trying to weigh up one another’s strength.

The bilateral power-sharing treaties are the main stumbling block. The Kremlin concluded the first such treaty in 1994 with the Republic of Tatarstan, after Tatarstan refused to sign a federal treaty intended to cover the center’s relations with all the regions. Other regions followed Tatarstan’s example, and today forty-two treaties and some 200 bilateral agreements on various issues are in force.

The first meeting of Kozak’s commission was preceded by an apparently carefully planned initiative by four regional executives–Yury Trutnyev of Perm Oblast, Ivan Sklyarov of Nizhegorod Oblast, Vladimir Shamanov of Ulyanovsk Oblast and Leonid Markelov, president of the Marii-El republic–who announced that they were renouncing their regions’ agreements with the center (Polit.ru, July 18). It may be relevant that two of these leaders, Shamanov and Markelov, became governors recently thanks to support from the Kremlin, while Sklyarov’s position is in question: He is facing a run-off election, having come second in the first round of voting.

The initiative of the four regional executives has not yet received wide support. On the contrary, several regional leaders responded by declaring their continued loyalty the treaty system. Among those adopting this position was Eduard Rossel, governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast (Polit.ru, July 10). And on the eve of the meeting of the Kozak commission one of its members, Tatarstan’s President Mintimer Shaimiev, declared that the agreement between the federal center and his republic was “forever.” The Russian constitution, he pointed out, sanctions the principle of dividing powers by means of treaties (Russian agencies, July 17). Going further, Rostov Governor Vladimir Chub asserted that the treaty principle should be extended to those regions that have not so far signed a power-sharing treaty with the center.

The initiative of “the four” found support from some quarters, however. Another member of the Kozak commission, Vologda Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev, commented that the system of power-sharing treaties had been necessary in the early period following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when chaos reigned in center-regional relations. But today, Pozgalev said, “the state is getting into line, budgetary relations are stabilizing and the need for treaties is declining” (Izvestia, July 16).

Kozak’s position is clear: Treaties must give way to relations regulated by the constitution and federal laws. Governors will not, Kozak has predicted, put up organized resistance to such a change (Polit.ru, July 19). The governors, however, have graphically demonstrated that he is wrong. On July 17, the presidium of the presidential State Council, which includes a governor representing each of the seven new federal districts, approved a plan for dividing authority between the regions and the center put forward by Shaimiev’s working group; naturally, Shaimiev’s blueprint assumes a treaty-oriented system of relations (Vedomosti, July 18). It seems that a majority of the governors support this idea, which has elicited the Kremlin’s open annoyance.

Putin, like Shaimiev, has also declared that the division of powers between the center and the regions must take place “exclusively on the basis of the constitution.” He prefers to remain silent, however, about whether the treaties still have a role to play. During his press conference, Putin said only that when in the early 1990s certain parts of the constitution “failed to work,” some of the regions “grabbed the functions of the center” (Polit.ru, July 19). This did not sound like enthusiastic endorsement for continuing treaty-based arrangements.

The opposing sides agree on one thing: The attempt to switch to divvying up powers using federal law will require a colossal amount of work. Shaimiev warned that it would require drafting no fewer than 100 new laws and amending a further ten (Russian agencies, July 17). Kozak put forward slightly different but no less impressive numbers: He spoke of amending 200 laws (NNS.ru, July 20). No one has ventured a guess on how long all of this will take.