Staunton, October 13 – In the 1990s, Kaluga Oblast and Moscow had vice governors or vice mayors, and both Tatarstan and Ingushetia had vice presidents, assuring an orderly succession. But these were eliminated reflecting both the lack of trust in any number two and the Kremlin’s desire to have maximum freedom to replace the top official, Maksim Artemyov says.
If the federal subjects within Russia retained vice presidents or even “deputy heads,” the historian writes in Nezavisimaya gazeta, Vladimir Putin would face a serious problem in appointing a new head as there would be a successor in waiting defined by the region’s constitution (ng.ru/kartblansh/2020-10-13/3_7988_kartblansh.html).
What has happened in the Russian federal subjects follows what has happened throughout the CIS where the initial experience with vice presidents was seldom a happy one, where the whole idea of an established line of succession was never accepted, and where no one wanted to “play by the rules” whenever a top job opened up.
Gennady Yanayev, vice president to Mikhail Gorbachev, tried to overthrow him in the August 1991 coup. Aleksandr Rutskoy, whom Boris Yeltsin selected to provide himself support from the right, did the same thing with his one-time patron during the October 1993 battle between the Russian Supreme Soviet and Yeltsin.
Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan all had vice presidents, but they were generally ciphers; and all three countries did away with the office by the end of the 1990s. In Western countries with vice presidents like the US, the occupants of that office are viewed as “ladies in waiting.” In Russia and the CIS, they were viewed as conspirators against the top man.
All this highlights the absence of trust in these countries. Indeed, the only CIS member state that has gone in the opposite direction and established a number two of this kind is Azerbaijan which has highlighted that fact by having the wife of the incumbent president take that role, someone unlikely to conspire against him.
It has often been observed that Gorbachev’s decision to become president of the USSR opened the way to the demise of that country because it inserted an alien element into that system which ultimately could not support itself. But Artemyov’s article suggests that if the former Soviet republics are to have presidents, they must have vice presidents – or at least a designated successor.
Until that happens, politics in these places will be Hobbesian; and the possibility for democracy limited indeed.