Sunday, April 1, 2018

Putin Won’t Decentralize, But Russia Fated to Become a Real Federation with Ethnic Republics, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 1 – Vladimir Putin has spent his entire time in office recentralizing Russia believing that this is the natural state of Russia and the only way it can prevent the country from falling apart as a result of actions by foreign powers, and consequently, he is not going to refederalize the country, Moscow experts say.

            But Russia will ultimately have to refederalize and on an ethnic basis if it is to have any chance of economic recovery or remaining in its current borders, these same experts suggest; and consequently after Putin Russia will either become a genuine federation or it will slip into decay and even disintegration (

            In a major article on how Russia emerged as a federal state in the 1990s and how Putin has destroyed federalism since 2000, Kommersant journalist Natalya Korchenkova says that in many ways Putin has simply moved back to the Soviet model without any recognition of the ways in which that system was itself doomed. She spoke with various experts on this issue.

            Oleg Sysuyev, former head of the Congress of Municipalitis, says that “under conditions when all regional leaders are appointed and all tax payments are converted into 100 percent government money, people understand that the local authorities do not decide anything and place all their hopes on the good tsar” who will talk about local issues at his press conferences.

            Anatoly Lisitsyn, a member of the Federation Council, says that “the leadership of the country consciously moved toward centralization because ‘the conflict in Yugoslavia showed that we had nothing to oppose NATO with and given that we could be converted into a colony” of the West.

            But now, he continues, “the country ‘has recovered its defense capabilities, political stability, and authority in international politics’” and so “’the time has come to think about the people as well.’ The situation in the regions is very bad: ‘It is shameful to listen when television reports’” that smaller cities can’t even pay for paved roads.

            Andrey Kolyadin, the former head of regional affairs in the Presidential Adminstration, says that the country has been turned into “85 factories” led by young technocrats.  For the moment, “there are no problems with centralization and unification,” but that won’t last because without competition “the regions have simply become impoverished.”

            Abbas Gallyamov, former deputy head of the presidential administration in Bashkortostan, adds that Tatarstan “de facto was long ago deprived of all special privileges” because Putin and his team, “politicians formed in the 1990s,” are hostile toward all the regions and especially the non-Russian republics.

            For the moment, “the Tatar intelligentsia isn’t protesting, but ‘the national question has a long memoray which stretches out for centuries,” Gallyamov says.

            But despite Putin’s centralization program and his destruction of the Russian federalism that emerge in the 1990s, the experts say, “tehre are signs that a new kind of federalism is emerging. Some regions – Chechnya, Moscow, Crimea, Sevastopol and partially Tatarstan – are permitted far more autonomy than others. 

            Andrey Zakharov, a specialist on federalism at Moscow’s Russian State Humanities University, says that in any federation, there are going to be advanced and lagging regions. What is intriguing in the Russian case, he says, is that despite the traditional link between federalism and liberalism, “in a paradoxical way,” some of the newly powerful regions are conservatives.

            The Kremlin is quite prepared to tolerate this even when some of the leaders of these few to challenge Moscow’s prerogatives, Zakharov says. But there are other reasons why Russian federalism survives: it allows non-Russians to feel important even if they are within the system, and it opens the way for Moscow to absorb new territories as in the case of Crimea.   

            Gallyamov notes that Russians are taugh tin school that “federalism is the ideology of the enemies of Russia” and that only a strong centralized state has allowed Russia to survive. It is certainly true that centralization can give temporary benefits, but over the longer term, it leads to stagnation economically and politically.

            There are good reasons for that Kolyadin says: “In the regions, they calculate in the following way: why should we develop industry if Moscow will take every away from us? We should we build factories, if we are forced to register them in Moscow?  A new generation of leaders must appear,” he says, who will work to develop their regions and thus the country.

            And Zakharov adds: “there is no alternative to federalism if one speaks about the preservatwion of Russia in its current borders,” adding that “we are doomed not simply to federalism but to its national-territorial form.” However, that won’t occur until there is systemic change at the center.

            That is because, he says, “federalization must be accompanied by the rebirth of democratic institutions, including free elections, a non-vertical party system, independent courts and a broad selection of civic freedoms.  If those things don’t happen, then “the changes can generate serious turmoil, the consequenceds of which are unpredictable.”

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