Staunton, July 17 – More than 60 of the 83 federal subjects currently maintain representative offices in the Russian capital to lobby on their behalf and boost their own prestige, but at least some regional governments now view these “permanent representations” as expensive luxuries and are taking steps to reduce their size or even close them altogether.
These institutions, which trace their origins to the early post-revolutionary period when communication between the capital and outlying areas was often difficult, rarely attract any attention in the media except when they organize meetings for students in the capital from their regions or stage cultural events.
But now there is another reason they are attracting attention: some regional leaders especially if they are newly installed are talking about reducing the size or even questioning the utility of such structures in order to demonstrate to Moscow their own willingness to economize with scarce resources.
According to an article in “Rossiiskaya gazeta” this week, Yegor Borisov, the new president of Sakha (Yakutia), “has come to the conclusion that the permanent representation of the republic attached to the President of Russia is not fulfilling the tasks it has been assigned” and costs a great deal of money (www.rg.ru/2010/07/15/yakutia.html).
Borisov told the paper that the employees of mission “in fact had reduced the circle of their responsibilities to representational functions, the fulfillment of curious services and the organization of meetings with the leaders of Yakutia with federal bureaucrats” and have not produced any “serious analytic work” or helped “to defend the interests of the region.”
That might not be so serious, the republic president said, except for two additional factors. On the one hand, maintaining the office in Moscow is expensive – last year it cost the republic 48 million rubles (1.6 million US dollars) to support its 27 staffers and their various activities.
And on the other, Sakha has not one representation in Moscow but three: the permanent representation, the Yakut permanent representation for economic and property issues, and the working group headed by the republic’s first vice prime minister, Gennady Alekseyev, which also maintains contacts with federal agencies.
Moreover, Borisov said, many of the ministries in his republic government have special staffers responsible for ties with Moscow, and these people are always travelling to Moscow “on various pretexts,” yet another reason why the permanent representation duplicates efforts others are making.
As a result, the Sakha president has given the permanent representation a month to reduce its staff, and he has announced that “its financing this year will be significantly reduced.” And he suggested that the future of the republic’s Moscow office would depend on its ability to attract investment for Sakha.
Aleksey Makarkin, first vice president of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, told “Rossiiskaya gazeta” that less may be going on here than meets the eye. On the one hand, Borisov is new and may simply want to produce some quick changes. And on the other, taking these steps in Moscow may be intended to win points with the Kremlin.
And Makarkin expressed doubts that Sakha or any other republic could get by without such permanent representations. But Oksana Goncharenko, an expert at the Center of Political Conjunction, disagreed, noting that federal subject heads ever more frequently preferred to deal directly with the federal president and prime minister.
In this new situation, she continued, the permanent representations have become “in a definite sense decorative structures,” and given the high rents in the Russian capital, many federal subjects really can’t afford them, except when they believe that their “prestige” is involved in having what others do.