Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Regions Seek Revival of Consultative Council of Federal Subject Representatives in Moscow

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 2 – Officials in several federal subjects are seeking the revival of the consultative Council of Representatives of the Russian Federation, a body that included the permanent representatives of the various districts resident in the Russian capital and that Vladimir Putin disbanded in 2004 in the course of creating his “power vertical.”
On the one hand, such calls reflect both the desire of the governments of the federal subjects to have more direct representation in Moscow than many of them feel now and the growth of the number of such representatives not only in the capital but also in the various regions and republics of the Russian Federation.
But on the other, and perhaps more importantly, these appeals represent yet another effort to chip away at Putin’s system and to ensure that officials in the federal subjects have their own representatives in the Russian capital as well as in other parts of the country where particular regions have special interests.
In the first years after the 1917 revolution, regions, republics and even individual cities set up what came to be known as “permanent representations” in Moscow and other key Russian cities, offices that initially ensured the reliability of communications and still later supported visitors from their home areas or functioned as lobbyists for those governments.
By the end of the Soviet period, the number of these institutions had declined, with few besides the union republics maintaining those. Those institutions not only served as focal points for the nationality concerned but also served as the basis for the creation of embassies after the disintegration of the USSR.
Over the last two decades, various regions and republics within the Russian Federation have set up their own permanent representatives, typically in Moscow but also in areas with which their home regions have or hope to have closer relations or in which representatives of their nationality live.
Most of the time, these institutions operate below the media radar screen, but occasionally, they do attract coverage as for example at the end of last year when the Ingushetia government announced plans to create permanent representations in the federal subjects of the Urals region to which it planned to send unemployed Ingush.
Now, as a result of a meeting between the permanent representatives of North Ossetia and of Ingushetia in Moscow at the end of last year concerning the possibility of establishing “a common information space” in the North Caucasus Federal District, more information about these institutions and what their backers hope for them has surfaced.
Visingirey Gagiyev, the permanent representative of the Republic of Ingushetia attached to the office of the President of the Russian Federation, said that offices like his were extremely important for sharing information and also for maintaining ties with their co-ethnic communities in the Russian capital (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/165984/).
The Ingush representative pointed out that Ingushetia alone already has such offices not only in Moscow but in 33 federal subjects and “in the near future” will open representations in 25 more. If these plans are realized, then Ingushetia alone will have missions in a majority of the federal subjects of the country.
(While Ingushetia almost certainly has more such offices than any other federal subject at the present time, most other federal subjects maintain an office in Moscow, and many have them not only in other federal subjects with which they are connected economically or by the presence of co-ethnic diasporas but also in the capitals of the various Federal Districts.)
Gagiyev laid particular stress on the idea that “in the shortest possible time,” the activity of the Council of Representatives of the Subjects of the Russian Federation, “an advisory organ which functioned in the Russian capital between 1997 and 2004,” should be “renewed” in order to represent regional interests and share information.
Were that to happen, it would not constitute a revolution in Russian political life, but it would create yet another venue for cooperation among the regions and provide another opportunity for them to lobby either individually or collectively, possibilities that others in the Federal Assembly and the Russian powers that be would have to take into consideration.
But even if the Council is not reestablished – and the likelihood of that is probably low anytime soon -- the very fact that some in the regions are talking about the desirability of doing so highlights that Russian politics are again in flux and that some of the decisions and arrangements Putin made are being questioned if not yet openly challenged.

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