Thursday, October 4, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Putin Likely to Disband Presidential Plenopotentiary System

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 4 –Vladimir Putin is likely to disband the system of Federal Districts headed by Presidential Plenopotentiaries he created in 2000 because it has achieved all the goals he set for it and because he will soon be leaving the presidency himself.
In an essay posted online today, Tat’yana Stanovaya, a specialist on this system, points out that two of these posts are now vacant – given the elevation of Dmitriy Kozak from the Southern Federal District to minister of regional development – and the transfer of Kamil Iskhakov from the Far Eastern Federal District to be Kozak’s deputy.
Although she acknowledges that these positions have not been vacant long, Stanovaya argues that the entire system has exhausted itself and notes that sources in the Office of the President have told her that Putin is likely to scrap it before the end of his term (
Putin created the seven federal districts headed by presidential representatives shortly after he took office to rein in regional leaders, bring regional legislation into line with federal laws, and weaken the political base of former Prime Minister Yevgeniy Primakov who was backed by regionally centered Fatherland-All Russia movement.
Very quickly, Stanovaya suggests, the polpredy, many of whom had military or security backgrounds, achieved these goals on behalf of Putin’s broader project of constructing a tight “power vertical” with himself at the top. And consequently, many analysts began questioning the further utility of these arrangements as early as 2004.
On the one hand, these writers noted at that time, the polpredy typically formed another layer of bureaucracy, one that all too often simply complicated the lives of Moscow-based ministries and regional officials without serving a broader purpose.
And on the other, many of them pointed out, such limitations could only be overcome by giving these polpredy so much power that they would by themselves constitute a threat to the center, something their creator, President Putin, would naturally oppose.
By the end of his first presidential term, Putin had deprived regional leaders of one of their chief levers on the federal legislative process by reforming the Federation Council and undermined the independence and self-confidence of these leaders by having his prosecutors bring criminal charges against some of them.
When Putin in 2004 ended elections for regional leaders and secured the virtually uncontested power to appoint them, many in Moscow thought this would give a new lease on life to the Presidential Plenopotentiaries. After all, someone would have to sift through and select officials for Putin to nominate to these jobs.
But it quickly became apparent, Stanovaya argues, that this was a technical rather than a political function and that it could be handled in Moscow every bit as well as it could be in the regions. And consequently, at that time, Kremlin officials indicated to her that Putin would end the system before the completion of his second term.
In the intervening period, the position of Presidential Plenopotentiary has declined in importance, she continues, serving either as a springboard for a bigger career, as has been the case with Kozak, or a place of honorary retirement, the status of “virtually all the other polpredy.”
In addition to the arguments Stanovaya advances for thinking Putin will soon do away with these institutions, there is another and perhaps more compelling one: After next year’s elections, he will not be president and as the odds’ on favorite to become prime minister, he is likely to want a very different set of arrangements in the future.

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