Thursday, January 31, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kozak’s ‘Competitive Federalism’ Plan Could Threaten Russia’s Cohesion

Paul Goble

Baku, January 31 – Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s regional affairs minister, has called for superimposing on the existing system of oblasts, krays, republics and federal districts ten macro-regions, each of which would be charged with developing a particular sector of the economy and given autonomy to the extent it asked for less money from the center.
At a minimum, this introduction of yet another layer in the Russian bureaucracy would create chaos in the short term. And more likely than not, it would quickly be disbanded or ignored lest it undermine economic development or power new regional challenges to the center’s authority.
Kozak calls his proposal “competitive federalism” and will provide additional details in a speech today. But yesterday’s Vedomosti provided sufficient information to show that, if adopted, it will provoke more competition but do very little to promote federalism (
The minister, who has often floated radical ideas, in the past is convinced that Moscow is not able to administer investments and the economy on its own and must delegate social-economic functions to the regions, according to a source in his apparatus
Each of the ten regions, which will include within themselves several existing subdivisions and cut across others, will be responsible for concentrating on a particular sector of the economy, an arrangement intended to force each to cooperate with the others and to proect the center’s “political” power vertical.
But perhaps the most innovative aspect of his plan is the idea that those regions who are able to carry out their missions without asking Moscow for funds will be given more autonomy while those who seek central funding will find their freedom of action severely curtailed.
In addition to the chaos its introduction would entail, this plan has so many problems that it is difficult to imagine why a senior official would go public with an idea that almost certainly will be shot down or that, if it were implemented, could threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
First, while Kozak and others have routinely talked about redrawing the borders of economic regions, doing so without taking into account existing political entities ensures that the leaders of these new institutions either will not be able to do their jobs or they will constitute a threat to Moscow.
Second, the tasks given to some regions will take more resources or be more important than those given to others. To ignore that reality and to suggest that all of them must be measured by the same standard raises questions about the country as a country and is certain to infuriate those who are put at a disadvantage from the beginning.
And third, such economic regions, whatever the intentions of their authors, almost certainly will acquire a political coloration, with officials below them either opposing the new regions by appealing to their traditional friends in the Moscow bureaucracy or forming alliances with the new regional officials against the center.
This list could be extended at will, but these difficulties suggest that Kozak’s latest proposal will find few supporters and many opponents, the typical fate of virtually all programs for redrawing borders within Russia since a Decembrist ideologist in 1825 suggested that a future democratic Russia should be divided into 13 states.

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