Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Regions Seek Elimination of Key Element in Putin’s Power Vertical

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 10 – The Republic of Tuva is calling on Moscow to eliminate a key element of Vladimir Putin’s power vertical: the power of the central government to appoint representatives of Moscow bureaucracies in the regions without reference to the views of the governments of the country’s republics and regions.
While this legislative initiative is unlikely to be approved by the Duma as would be required, it does reflect the rising tide of anger in Russia’s regions and republics against what they see as Moscow’s failure to address their problems, a tide that has already spilled over into unrest over the center’s appointment of an outsider to a federal post in Daghestan.
Encouraged by President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent remarks about the need to optimize the relationship between Moscow and its representatives in the regions, Tuva is preparing a draft law that would force federal agencies to secure the approval of the governor before appointing anyone to a position in a federal agency representation on his or her territory.
The regions had enjoyed that right, Dina Oyun, an advisor to the Tuvan government said, until the early years of this decade when Moscow “took this right away” during its efforts to limit the power of the regions relative to the center and to eliminate the power of local clans “in cadres policy” (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1116295&NodesID=2).
True, she continued, in 2005, then-President Vladimir Putin issued a directive to the federal agencies telling them to “inform the governors in advance of the appointment” of officials in the regions. But that did not give the regional heads a veto and thus did not ensure that the appointees understand the problems of the regions they were assigned to.
“Kommersant” reports that no Duma deputy was prepared to comment on the Tuvan idea, but the Moscow paper added that “in the expert community, there are great doubts about the prospects of the Tuvan initiative.” The force structures will never agree, the experts said, and economic ministries maintain offices in the regions only because the constitution requires it.
But the Tuvan initiative is not the only indication, in the words of Georgy Chizhov, the vice president of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, that regional elites are seeking to “revisit the line toward centralization that was strengthened throughout the entire decade of the 2000s.”
Chizhov points to complains by the leaders of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan but he suggests that these do not constitute “a tendency” because so far they have not had “any legal consequences.” But these are having a political impact because Moscow cannot fail to recognize that the regions are increasingly angry about the center’s striving to control everything.
Meanwhile, the anger about the center’s appointment power continues to bubble over in Daghestan where a large crowd, many of whom carried weapons, yesterday sought to prevent Vladimir Radchenko, Moscow’s appointee who was accompanied by a group of guards, from getting into his office (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1116240).
“The incident could have grown into an armed confrontation,” “Kommersant” reported yesterday, noting that “Mr. Radchenko intends to leave the republic for an [unspecified] time.” But the situation is unlikely to quiet down anytime soon, especially given reports that the son of Daghestan’s president may have been involved in the attack on Radchenko this past weekend.
Some observers have suggested that President Mukhu Aliyev has orchestrated the whole thing both to cover up his own corruption by distracting public opinion and to play to the populist nationalism now rising in Daghestan. But others have said that the incident is part of an effort by his opponents to discredit him (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/149381).
However that may be and however angry the regions now are about what Moscow is doing to them, there is one group at the center which very much wants to impose even tighter control over what the regions are doing during the current economic crisis. That group is the pro-Putin United Russia Party.
Its operatives are discussing sending special anti-crisis managers from within its ranks to serve as special advisors and administrators alongside governors, even though members of the party currently occupy the leading posts in 74 of the 83 regions and republics in the Russian Federation.
That plan, Sobkorr.ru commentator Sergey Petrunin observes, bears a frighten resemblance to Stalin’s decision to send 25,000 activists to the Soviet countryside during collectivization. Those activists, who knew little or nothing about local conditions, not only failed to help but made things worse (www.sobkorr.ru/news/498FC2A8C09D6.html).
Whether the “new 25,000-ites” will make things as much worse seems unlikely, but if United Russia goes ahead with its project, this group of emissaries from the center almost certainly will further enflame anti-Moscow feelings in the regions and republics and lead to more demands from there to modify if not destroy Putin’s power vertical.

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