Publication: Prism Volume: 4 Issue: 4

What makes Moscow so different from Russia’s other regions?

By Vladimir Mironov

The process of forming a new Russian state has had a brief history — a little over six years. Over this period, the weak parliamentary-presidential constitutional federation which emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union has turned into an asymmetrical, super-presidential federation formed, in part, on the basis of treaties with the regions, with elements of confederation. This is hardly surprising, for Russia’s regions are going through various stages of political and economic development — post-industrial, industrial and even pre-industrial.

The destruction of the unitary Soviet system, whose defining principles were monocentrism, centralism and universality, and its replacement with a new, pluralistic system based on polycentrism, federalism and differentiation of regional development, has led to a more complicated domestic political and economic "space," and the appearance of new centers of regional strength. Relations between the center and the regions are being built through a complex process of negotiation, compromise and "horse-trading" which takes into account the shifts in interests and relative strengths of the various negotiating parties. Forty republics, krais, oblasts and autonomies have so far signed treaties delimiting jurisdiction and powers between themselves and the federal center, and more are on the way.

Among the subjects of the Federation — that is, the regions that comprise the Russian Federation — there are those which, by their geographic position, economic significance, financial potential, ethnic diversity or large population, exert a substantial influence on the central government.

One of the most influential of these "centers" is the Moscow region, which includes two federation subjects — the Russian capital and Moscow Oblast.

The Moscow city authorities have not yet put their relations with the federal center onto a treaty basis. The Russian president has a plenipotentiary representative in Moscow. But this federal official goes virtually unnoticed. As a rule, the city government resolves all problems that arise by direct negotiations with federal politicians: the president, the prime minister, federal ministers, etc.

The system of government that exists in Moscow is built on a separation of powers between its three branches, and on a system of checks and balances. The city’s mayor, Yury Luzhkov, elected by Muscovites in a direct election in 1996, heads the executive branch.

Luzhkov has abundant power but also has to bear full responsibility. Members of Luzhkov’s staff say that, when issues are being discussed and solutions are being sought, Luzhkov encourages the broadest possible participation and the advancement of all kinds of proposals and ideas. Then he makes the decisions himself.

In implementing these decisions, the city government does not rely merely on its administrative power; it also uses the economic levers that have appeared during the transition to a market economy. Moscow’s government minister in charge of protecting the environment, Leonid Bochin, says for example that 267 industrial enterprises that were polluting the environment were offered the chance to relocate away from the city’s center "under economically favorable conditions." Those that did not opt to leave were subjected to tough environmental regulations.

The city’s legislative branch is the Moscow City Duma, which has thirty-five deputies, most of whom are members of democratic parties and movements. It cooperates closely with the mayor’s office.

The city’s judicial branch and the prosecutor general’s office are subordinated to the corresponding federal institutions. But appointments and removals of the heads of these agencies are made by the federal authorities only after consultation with the mayor.

The system of government is quite different in many of the other federation subjects. Relations between the federal center and some federation subjects are built on the basis of treaties delimiting jurisdiction and authority. Some of these have an almost confederal character (the treaties with Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Yakutia-Sakha, for example); other are governed exclusively by Russian constitutional norms. Some republics have their own norms regulating the activity of the judicial branch and the prosecutor general’s office. For example, the president of Bashkortostan appoints the republic’s prosecutor general with the consent of the Russian prosecutor general. According to the Russian constitution, it should be the other way around — a republic prosecutor should be appointed by the Russian prosecutor general with the consent of the president of the republic. The governments of several federation subjects have assumed jurisdiction over areas which, in most federations, are the prerogative of the central government. Some even claim the right to ratify international treaties, declare martial law, or set up their own customs service.

The fact that the Russian constitution provides for joint jurisdiction by the federal center and the regions on many vital issues is a further complication. The absence of a clear dividing line between the jurisdictions and responsibilities of the federal and provincial authorities not only permits regions to grab some powers for themselves but also allows both sides to shuffle off responsibility when really awkward problems crop up.

In some federation subjects, relations between provincial ministries and their federal counterparts are built on agreements which clearly define jurisdiction and the rules of interaction. The implementation of such agreements nonetheless depends, to a significant degree, on the influence of the leaders of the republics and regions.

In Russia, there is no vertical of representative-legislative power. Each federation subject elects its own legislature, which is independent and sovereign on those issues which the constitution assigns to its particular competence. But in 19 of Russia’s 21 republics, 29 of its 49 oblasts and four of its ten autonomous okrugs, constitutional laws have been passed that conflict with the Russian constitution.

In a number of federation subjects, moreover, the main political issues — the question of power, including economic power, and of property — have not been resolved. Executive and legislative branches disagree and try to encroach on the other side’s turf. This is one of the main reasons why no clearly-defined system of regional government has yet been developed.

The smooth functioning of provincial government is also impeded by the following factors:

* Often, there is a rivalry between the governor and the mayor of the capital city of the province. This is the case in Primorsky Krai, Buryatia, Udmurtia, and others.

* The role of the president’s representative has not been clearly defined. President Yeltsin has ruled that this official — the highest ranking federal official in each region — should participate in all the region’s important personnel questions, supervise the disbursement of financial resources sent from the center, and oversee the activity of federal bodies located in the region. But Yeltsin’s decision has met with fierce resistance from the presidents and governors, who have done all they can to prevent the president’s representative from establishing himself. Dmitri Ayatskov, governor of Saratov Oblast, has gone so far as to declare that, "If [the president tries to boost the powers of his representative], I will liquidate the post of presidential representative in the oblast, because it is unconstitutional."

* Only ten regions are donors to the state budget. The federal center would like to take the regions which receive the most subsidies under its direct financial control, substantially reducing the possibilities of the provincial leaderships. So far, it has not been able to do this.

* In a number of provinces, there is rivalry between several "centers of strength" representing either sectoral (agricultural, military, fuel and energy), territorial, or ethnic lobbies.

Moscow’s privileged position is determined by a number of factors:

* Moscow is not just the nation’s capital. It has one of the nation’s largest industrial bases and is also the nation’s financial center. It is Russia’s main transportation and communications hub, "pulling the country together" into a whole with its railroad, highway, river and telecommunications networks. Consequently, stability in this city has not only local or regional, but also nationwide significance.

* The taxes paid by Moscow make up almost 40 percent of the income side of the consolidated federal budget, making Moscow the biggest donor of all federation subjects.

* Mayor Luzhkov has succeeded in putting together a highly professional team. On the one hand, there has been very little turnover — most of the city’s top leadership has worked together with the mayor since 1991-1992. On the other, Luzhkov eagerly takes on competent, high-ranking politicians and officials, some of whom have earlier been dismissed by the federal government.

* The mayor has wide-ranging ties with other provincial leaders throughout Russia, and has concluded economic, scientific and cultural cooperation agreements with dozens of cities. He is an influential member of the Federation Council. He epitomizes that part of the Russian political elite which has joined the "party of power" and speaks for a strong state role in the national economy.

* Moscow is actively becoming integrated into the European and world economy. The city is attracting foreign money for investment in contemporary high-income economic projects and for the financing of the city’s social programs. It is already an important player in international money markets.

At the same time, Luzhkov, by supporting the expansion of the network of branches of Moscow banks into the Russian republics and regions, is trying to create a banking consortium — "Golden Ring" — which will attract Russian and foreign credits, under the guarantee of the city government, which can then be invested in profitable construction projects.

In conclusion, in response to the question of whether or not it is possible to create a single system of government which would be the same in every federation subject, one may say that this will be impossible as long as substantial differences persist between the republics, krais and oblasts.

Translated by Mark Eckert

Vladimir Alekseevich Mironov is a Senior Fellow of the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.


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