Monday, February 10, 2020

Constitutional Changes Will Make Federal Subject Heads Even Less Connected with the Places They Head, Shevchuk Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 3 – Both Vladimir Putin’s message to the Federal Assembly and his proposed amendments to the Constitution simultaneously will make the heads of regions and republics even less connected with the populations they supervise and even more so with the Kremlin, Mikhail Shevchuk says.

            In his address, Putin spoke about “significantly increasing the role of governors in developing and taking decisions at the federal level” by including them in a State Council with expanded powers.  But that arrangement will link them still further to the Kremlin and moreover keep them in the capital rather than in the federal subjects (

            Both of these developments will reduce not increase the role of the governors as anything but “executors of presidential will,” the St. Petersburg journalist says; and thus this sleight of hand by the Kremlin leader is of a piece with his manner of rule more generally – following the letter of the law which he writes but not its spirit.

            Given that all the recent discussion is about changing the constitution of the Russian Federation, one might have expected that issues involving the regions and republics who form it would be central. But in fact, despite Putin’s promise, they haven’t been except in this indirect way which reduces rather than expands their status.

            Indeed, at the level of explicit comments, “nothing is being said about regional policy” at all. And as for the State Council, no one knows for sure what it will be; but one thing is certain: “it is hardly going to remain a governors’ club” if only because the governors are Moscow’s appointees rather than the elected representatives of the oblasts, krays and republics.

            The State Council will thus consist “of bureaucrats who in fact are not the representatives of the regions in Moscow but, on the contrary, the representatives of Moscow in the regions,” Shevchuk says.  And because now they will be spending more time in the capital at meetings of this Council, they will have even less to do with and be representative of their federal subjects.

            Moreover, Shevchuk continues, with the new amendments, the governors “will be subordinate directly to the president as members of the State Council,” thus finally ending the pretext that “they are responsible not before Moscow but to the voters.  The place for the adoption of decisions even formally is being shifted to the capital.”

            Moscow wants the governors to carry out its orders and now have any rights as far as making the decisions those orders are based on, the St. Petersburg journalist continues. And thus, “the State Council will not become an independent organ of power but only a subunit of the presidential palace” because the Kremlin doesn’t even trust its own appointees.

            The governors’ responsibilities really will increase, Shevchuk says, but only “to the president and not to the citizens.” And that is to be expected: “responsibility without power as Tom Stoppard has said is the prerogative of the eunuch in all times and places.”

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