Staunton, January 17 – Russian politicians often say Russia needs strong one-man rule because of its national traditions or its enormous size, but in his speech to the first meeting of the working group on constitutional change, Vladimir Putin says it must be a presidential republic because of the multi-ethnic and poly-confessional composition of its population.
“With our complex organization of the state, with its poly-confessional and multi-national character and with its enormous territory, this [a shift to a parliamentary form of governance] would be for Russia a very serious test. It is unknown how it would end,” he says (nazaccent.ru/content/31988-putin-v-mnogokonfessionalnoj-i-mnogonacionalnoj-rossii.html).
The Kremlin leader tells the group which includes representatives of national-cultural organizations, that the State Council must be strengthened but it should not replace the upper house of the parliament, the Federation Council. “It is the chamber of the regions,” and “we must not create a second chamber of the regions” in the State Council.
Putin’s comments reflect his deep aversion to any decentralization or federalism. In fact, Russia is far less ethnically and religious diverse than many other countries -- indeed less than most. In the world today there are roughly 7000 nations and 200 countries. That means the average country has about 350. Russia officially has fewer than 200.
What the Kremlin leader is frightened of as he has indicated on many occasions is that decentralization and federalism set the stage for disintegration especially if the territorial units are based on ethnicity or religion. He clearly fears that any strengthening of the regions and republics could lead to another 1991.
Putin thus does not see federalization as Lenin did for Russia and as other leaders have for other countries whose size and diversity require that approach but rather as a threat to the state itself. And he wants to make sure in small ways and large that nothing is done to give the regions and republics more authority or power.
But his insistence on a hyper-centralized presidentialist system is likely a bigger threat to the future of the Russian Federation than any moves toward federalism or even decentralization because it deprives that country of the flexibility it needs not only to cope with current challenges but also to experiment.
And so in seeking even more centralization as he is doing now, Putin is again following in a long line of rulers who have produced what they most fear and dislike by their insistence on opposing it rather than by figuring out ways in which they can find common ground and a basis for cooperation.