Staunton, September 15 – One of the great virtues of federalism is that various parts of a country can come up with independent ideas and programs that, if they work out, other parts of the country can adopt. But in Russia, the central government typically uses the nominally federal system in exactly the opposite way.
That is, it tries out something it would like to extend to the entire country in one place, such as repressing the North Caucasus (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/09/kremlin-bringing-to-moscow-tactics-it.html) or, as now, using the Urals Federal District as “a pilot territory” for controlling the Internet (rbc.ru/technology_and_media/26/09/2019/5d8b4c1c9a7947d3c58f9a48).
From the Kremlin’s point of view, trying something out far from Moscow with its enormous media and foreign embassy presence is desirable in at least two ways. On the one hand, the central authorities can develop their projects to a point where it is then far easier to spread them to the rest of the country.
And on the other – and this is something that should not be neglected by those who care about real federalism – using federal arrangements in this way discredits the idea of federalism in the minds of many Russians who see it as just another means the center uses to get its way rather than something of value in and of itself for them.
Those who do recognize the value of federal arrangements thus have a double task: They must publicize Moscow’s use of its federal arrangements so that it cannot use them as testing grounds for bad ideas without criticism; and they must explain to Russian audiences why this is a misuse of federalism and not its inevitable result.