Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Regional Leaders May Prove to Be Big Losers as a Result of Putin’s Latest Moves

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 2 – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s focus on domestic affairs and especially his decision to rely on the United Russia as an administrative resource to run the country have led many officials and analysts outside of Moscow to conclude that the regions may prove to be the biggest losers from the latest round of changes in Moscow.
In an analysis of what he calls Putin’s “new system of administering the regions,” URA.ru analyst Dmitry Kolesev argues that Russia’s regions and republics have already lost much of their freedom of action as a result of three recent changes in Moscow and are likely to lose even more in the future (www.ura.ru/content/urfo/01-12-2008/articles/1027135871.html).
First of all, President Dmitry Medvedev’s focus on foreign affairs and his near total deference to Putin domestic affairs means that the regional leaders who are at least nominally appointed by the president cannot play his office off against the government headed by Putin as they have done in the past.
Second, Putin’s decision as announced at the 10th Congress of United Russia to rely on that party rather than on the presidential plenipotentiaries to select and evaluate regional leaders reinforces that trend, weakening the influence of the president, increasing that of the prime minister, and reducing that of at least the current set of regional lobbyists in Moscow.
And third, at the party congress, Putin engineered the exclusion of major regional lobbyists like Oleg Morozov, Valery Draganov, Elena Panina, Yekaterina Lakhova, Konstantin Zatulin, Valery Ryazansky, Vladimir Pekhin and Valery Yazev from the leading organs of the party that all of these people helped to found.
“Formally,” Kolesev says, no one yet is calling this a purge, but in essence that is what it is especially if one takes into consideration other [closely related] changes which are taking place among the powers that be.”
These changes which Yevgeny Minchenko, the author of the system of rating governors, calls the construction of “a new ‘party-premier vertical,’” will rest on two other developments: the use of a quantitative rating system to assess governors and the creation of “a vertical of ‘Putin-Sobyanin-Basargin’” to centralize control over policies toward the regions.
Besides reducing the role of the Kremlin in regional affairs, the URA.ru analyst notes, these moves have the effect of pushing aside Dmitry Kozak who “turned out to be too ambitious” to work with Sergey Sobyanin and must now be satisfied with the vice premiership, while Sobyanin “peacefully works with his old acquaintance Viktor Basargin.”
These arrangements, Kolesev concludes, point toward the replacement of a large number of regional leaders, including those who came to office in Yeltsin’s time, by people totally loyal to the United Russia party and its leader, Prime Minister Putin, and they suggest that the party will work to prevent divisions within regional elites and between them and Moscow.
According to political analysts with whom Kolesev spoke, “very soon the role of the Control-Revision Commission of United Russia will grow sharply,” a development with disturbing parallels to the way in which the CPSU made use of its control-revision commission to keep party members and leaders in line.
But it was Yevgeny Minchenko who uttered the words that the leaders of Russia’s regions and republics most fear. “There will be purges,” he said, because “with the growth of social tensions [in the country] the leadership will need to seek out the guilty and punish them as examples” to others as to what Moscow or -- more immediately -- Putin wants.

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