Staunton, November 10 – “In comparison with the complete submission of the regional authorities over the last 10 to 12 years, a real parade of sovereignties has brown out, Andrey Pertsev says, with regional officials making it clear that they are not prepared to simply go along with “the new economic and political expansion of Moscow.”
The Kommersant journalist in an article for the Carnegie Moscow Center says that these officials “are demanding not money but more freedom of action and are citing the opinion of the people” and reminding the Kremlin that “Russia is a federative state” according to its constitution and laws (carnegie.ru/commentary/74685).
Across the country, Pertsev says, “the regions are raising their voices,” complaining about official pressure, Moscow’s imposition of unfunded liabilities, and the center’s taking ever more revenue from them without giving as much back. And both deputies in regional parliaments and some governors are becoming more direct in their criticism and demands.
“The re-distribution of income in favor of the center and the reduced regional budgets as a result are calling forth mini-revolts,” he continues. For understandable reasons, “the appeals of the deputies and heads of subjects to the center are extremely polite and soft, but their very existence shows residents” that the regional government is on their side against Moscow.
By making such comments and declarations to the center, the regional elites are in effect “washing their hands” and declaring to Moscow “we warned you” how people in the regions feel. Indeed, “the present parade of sovereignties has an important characteristic – in the majority of cases, local officials refer to the opinion of the population or the worsening of its situation.”
In this way, Pertsev says, “they remind Moscow in a soft way: Russia by law is a federation, and governors have not a few rights which they haven’t used up to now. Finally, the population has the right to dictate to the powers their opinion – via referendum or even a poll – and that must be taken into account.”
“So far,” he continues, “the regional leadership has shown only that it ‘remembers’ its authority and is reflecting how to use it. References to the opinion of the population are also symptomatic. The Center has for many years blocked expressions like ‘stop feeding Moscow’” and taken so much money that the regional elites are now responding in this new way.
Their timing is no accident: in a few months, Russia will have presidential elections. “Regional deputies are closer to the ground and know the attitudes of electors more than do official polls. You can’t demand much from a strong and popular power, but a power which is starting to lose its support can face demands.”
As Tatarstan’s president “directly said, “we still have to ‘organize elections;’ think and stop what you are doing.” That is a warning to Putin directly if nothing else. And the regions clearly expect that Moscow will have little choice but to show some flexibility and compromise in their direction as a result.
But Pertsev continues, “the reaction of Moscow to the parade of sovereignties can hardly be called adequate: this can be seen in Tatarstan where the situation continues to get become more tense, although the region has given consistently high percentages of the vote to the party of power and to Vladimir Putin.”
Moscow has offered cheap credits to the regions but it hasn’t returned the share of tax revenues the regions are calling for. According to the Kommersant journalist, “the parade of sovereignties” won’t be stopped by what Moscow has done so far. Instead, this is likely to lead to the voicing of “qualitatively new demands” not for more aid but for more authority.