Monday, April 20, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Regions Propose Radical Changes in Russia’s Federal Arrangements

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 20 – Even though President Dmitry Medvedev has made clear that Moscow will have the last word on all anti-crisis measures and even though polls suggest Russians trust the center more than the regions to cope with the crisis, many of Russia’s regions and republics argue that the crisis underscores the need to revamp existing federal arrangements.
In the current issue of “Versia,” Mikhail Izmalkov surveys the proposals regional officials have offered over the last month. And while it is unlikely that all or perhaps even many of their ideas will be implemented, the list itself provides a measure of within-system regional aspirations (
Izmalkov says that the economic crisis has become “a crisis of the Russian Federation,” one during which “the regions are demanding an increase of the political and economic freedoms” of the country’s component parts, demands that would not only reverse much of Vladimir Putin’s effort to construct a power vertical but in some cases go much further.
Some of the proposals, like Kostroma oblast’s call for drafting all young men in order to ease unemployment, would simply change Moscow’s general policy, but many call on the center to cede control over important levers of power to regional officials and to restructure political arrangements in the regions, even while providing more money from the federal treasury.
Chechnya’s demand for control over the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service offices on its territory and for the emission of money there have attracted the most attention and the most immediate dismissal by central officials, but other proposals are both more serious and apparently being taken more seriously in Moscow given the depth of the crisis.
Kaliningrad oblast has proposed changing the rules so that those parties which win regional elections will have the right to form regional governments and that governors will again have the power to nominate officials in the representations of federal organs of power located on their territories and will gain direct control over many federal offices there.
Many republics in the North Caucasus in turn have asked for more federal money to cope with the crisis and fewer federal controls over how it is used. Krasnodar kray has called for Moscow to allow regional banks to gain credits at the Bank of Russia and to form a new state corporation for agriculture, something that would help that southern region.
Volgograd officials have called for simplifying the procedure allowing governments to exercise eminent domain and for ensuring that the representatives of central government ministries and agencies regularly inform regional and local officials about what they are doing rather than acting unilaterally.
And a variety of federal subjects, including Kemerovo, Kursk, and Nizhny Novgorod, have called on Moscow to provide more aid given that federal law requires them to support things that existing revenues do not allow, thus creating the problem of unfunded liabilities that exist in many federal systems around the world.
Meanwhile, Izmalkov continues, Karelia would like to set up a system whereby the most successful regions would get more money from the center, something its leaders say would cause regional officials to work harder. But other regions appear to oppose that idea lest their different situations cost them federal money.
Among the other proposals the regions have offered are the following: Saratov wants a greater say in controlling immigrant workers as does Primorsky kray. Tyva and Magadan want greater control over the licensing of their natural resources and a greater share of profits from their sale. And Kamchatka wants more protectionism and subsidies for transport costs.
Clearly, each region is seeking to maximize the amount of money it gets from Moscow and to minimize Moscow’s control over how that is spent, but the very diversity of demands will likely allow the center to pick and choose, playing off one region against another, unless of course the crisis lasts long enough for the regions to begin forming a common front.
That does not appear to be an immediate danger, but given that ever more predictions suggest that the crisis will extend into 2010 or even longer, the chance that Moscow will be confronted by more demands from the regions and even greater coordination among them will increase, a development that will help to define Russian politics as the country approaches 2012.

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