Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Karaganov Backs Shaimiyev on Elections, Expands His Appeal for Decentralization

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 18 – Sergey Karaganov, one of Moscow’s most sophisticated and well-connected political commentators, says he supports Mintimir Shaimiyev’s call to make the heads of federation subjects again subject to election and believes that Russia must now promote even more radical forms of decentralization than the Tatarstan president had suggested.
At a press conference yesterday, Karaganov argued that while certain limitations on democracy and local control were justified as necessary steps to stop the disintegration of the country, Russia must now move toward greater democracy and decentralization if it is to continue to be “a dynamically developing economy” (
But at the same time, he made it clear that the democracy he supports will not be “the ‘old’ European model,” whose incautious and in appropriate application to Russia in the 1990s by Boris Yeltsin almost led to the collapse of the country and forced his successor to take a series of harsh steps to prevent that from happening.
Now that Russia has been “saved” and its society “consolidated,” however, Russia needs to turn away from excessive “centralization” and allow elections for political offices at all levels – and not just for the position of heads of the federation subjects as Shaimiyev suggested – and thus open the way to “the total decentralization of power” across the country.
Karaganov said that he “sincerely believes” that “in the near future” Moscow will allow elections not only for the heads of regions but also for members of the Federation Council and that there will “arise a genuine and not simply nominal multi-party system.”
The Kremlin already understands the need for such “division of responsibility for what is taking place in the country” lest it be forced as now to bear criticism for everything that may go wrong and consequently will take these steps soon, however much some officials may resist. If it doesn’t, then the country’s leaders might find themselves isolated and weakened.
Karaganov’s statement is interesting for at least three reasons. First, he provides an argument for regional elections – a division of responsibility for problems – that is far more likely to be persuasive than any Shaimiyev offered, all the more so because Karaganov is a Russian and not a Tatar.
Second, the Moscow analyst’s suggestion that Russian democracy need not ape the West but rather develop in its own way will play well to the increasingly nationalistic Russian elite. Indeed, it provides a bridge from their own authoritarianism to a more open system, one they would be unlikely to cross without that kind of assurance.
And third, Karaganov’s unambiguous statement that he believes this will happen is, given his closeness to many in the Kremlin, strongly suggests that what Shaimiyev did last weekend may not be the action of a lone wolf as some felt but rather part of a general effort by President Dmitry Medvedev to change the direction of the Russia he inherited from Vladimir Putin.
Two other reports this week point in the same direction. On the one hand, the website reported that Moscow is working to improve the training of lower-ranking bureaucrats for the regions, thereby addressing what has proved to be a serious problem in a number of federal subjects (
And on the other, Regional Affairs Minister Dmitry Kozak appears to have finally dropped his plans to subdivide the country yet again, this time into a set of macro-regions. Most regional leaders opposed this as a threat to their power, and many in Moscow viewed his earlier plan as a means of controlling the regions (

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