Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Accords between Federal Subjects and Foreign Countries ‘a Threat to Russia’s Sovereignty,’ Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – The efforts of the government of Trans-Baikal kray to rent land to China and Mongolia have sparked debates in the Russian media about whether subjects of the federation should be able to conduct business in this way as they have been doing since the late Soviet period (regions.ru/news/2553417/).

            Typically, such agreements have been about relatively small issues; and no one in Moscow believes that they should occur without clearance from the capital.  But now one Russian analyst, S.A. Balashov of the Sulakshin Center, is arguing that all such agreements should be tightly controlled lest they become “a threat to Russia’s sovereignty.”

            In a commentary on Politobzor.net, Balashov says that it is imperative that the central Russian government recognize this fact and understand that it must ban all such accords (politobzor.net/show-58032-regionalnye-mezhdunarodnye-soglasheniya-ugroza-suverenitetu-rossii.html  http://regions.ru/news/2553417/).

            Russian legislation governing such agreements is extensive, but it is full of “gaps” and “shortcomings” that some regions exploit in order to sell off land and other goods to foreigners in order to get what Balashov calls “’easy money,’” a pattern increasingly common at this time of economic stringency.

            At present, Russian law specifies that agreements between regions and foreign countries are not treaties “because the regions of the Russian Federation are not recognized as subjects of international public law.” And it calls on regions who want to sign any agreement to clear them with Moscow.

            Most such agreements are harmless, of “a general character,” and “about ‘friendship and cooperation,” he says, but “the problem is that many accords lack clear formulations which have to be filled in later by real concrete content,” that is, content supplied after Moscow has given its OK to them.

            Indeed, Balashov says, the problem is with the coordination procedure. At present, Moscow has only 20 days to review the agreements before it goes into force, and the regions have a great deal of flexibility as far as to which Russian government ministry they appeal to. Thus, they can sometimes play one off against another.

            But there is an even bigger problem: At present, there are no penalties for regions which fail to submit their agreements with foreign countries for review, and consequently, many regional heads ignore the legal requirement to do so. Of the accords between regions and foreign countries now in force, “about 500” have been registered, but 1500 haven’t.

            That means, Balashov says, that “75 percent of the agreements” may be modified by the regions after Moscow has given nominal clearance, opening the way to abuse.

            Draft legislation would correct some of these problems, he says. It would specify to whom the regions must apply, it would give Moscow more time to respond, and it would impose penalties on those regional officials who did not submit the original or any changes for review. Most important, it would specify that no agreement would enter into force until Moscow agreed.

            Given that many regions want to rent land or sell natural resources to foreigners to get “’easy money,’” Balashov continues, changes in the rules governing such rentals and sales also need to be made, including a requirement that no such agreement could enter into force without the prior written consent of the federal Ministry of Economic Development.

            Unless and until such changes are made, these agreements have the potential to threaten the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, the analyst concludes.

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