Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Presidential Plenipotentiaries Have a Horizontal Role, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Fairborn, September 21 – The presidential plenipotentiary system, set up by Vladimir Putin to rein in regional leaders in order to construct his “power vertical,” has achieved that goal, a Russian analyst says, but its leaders now have the chance to transform Russia’s media environment and thereby acquire a new and possibly powerful role regionally and in Moscow.
In an analysis on the Nizhny Novgorod section of APN.ru, Aleksandr Prudnik suggests that because this initial goal was achieved, “for the ruling elite, the political need for the plenipotentiaries no longer exists. And there is a risk that at some point, they will simply be eliminated” (www.apn-nn.ru/541124.html).
That indeed may have been the intention of Moscow and the expectation of Russians around the country, he continues, many of whom view these administrative structures not “as real subjects of state construction but simply as the latest bureaucratic arrangements” Moscow had made for its own purposes.
But as often happens, Prudnik argues, the plenipotentiaries and the federal districts they head have in some cases taken on a life of their own, one that Moscow may not have expected and may not even want. And there is even the possibility that they may play an even larger role in the future.
For most Russians, the analyst suggests, what happens in Moscow is “much closer” to them than what happens in a neighboring subject of the federation even if it is in the same federal district, a reflection of the fact that “in Russia as a whole all relations, including in the communications sphere, are “constructed vertically and concentrated in Moscow.”
That intensifies the lack of “horizontal ties among people and among institutions of civil society.” But the plenipotentiaries and the federal districts they held are moving, sometimes intentionally and sometimes despite their intentions to change that, because they need to improve communications among the federal subjects within their administrative responsibility.
This is already happening at the level of the bureaucracy, but it is increasingly affecting the media sphere as well. And there are many more opportunities, Prudnik argues, including the establishment of “a common information space, a space for the exchange of ideas and information within the federal districts.”
Among them are the creation of federal district television networks “where will work journalists from all the regions and where information about that district will predominate.” That would become “an instrument for the initial formation of horizontal ties.” Similarly, the creation of district newspapers and even Internet portals would promote such connections.
In some federal districts – the North Caucasus one, in particular – the plenipotentiary recognizes that the development of such an information space is a precondition to the fulfillment of the tasks Moscow has laid upon it and him, but in others, this recognition does not yet appear to have affected policy.
Obviously, given that the existence of eight federal districts could be a real threat to central control, Moscow is likely to be leery of any serious moves in the direction that Prudnik suggests. But equally obviously, both the district leaders and some in Moscow will see this consolidation as necessary.
And that makes Prudnik’s essay important because it calls attention to a new area of conflict, one often below the radar screen of most at the center, between the centralizing impulses of Moscow and the administrative and political requirements of institutions set up to limit the power of the regions and republics.

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