Sunday, April 17, 2016

Administrative-Territorial Divisions of Russia Limiting Modernization, Kordonsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – Even if one ignores the non-Russian federal subjects, Simon Kordonsky says, the administrative-territorial division of the Russian Federation inherited from Soviet times limits the modernization of the country because there are too many levels and too few coordinating institutions to combine the interests of the various parts of the country.

            In a presentation to the Liberal Mission Foundation, the scholar at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics argues that the multitude of administrative-territorial divisions in the country and the lack of a coordinating structure like the CPSU in Soviet times make it difficult for Russia to be governed and modernized (

            The administrative-territorial division of the country is “not the only thing which we inherited from the Soviet Union,” Kordonsky says, “but it is the most important.”  Some of its elements have changed their form, “but the content of relations between the units of the division and its logic remain approximately the same.”

            There are eight levels of the administrative-territorial division of the country, mostly with the same names they bore in Soviet times; but they are not coordinated in the way they were at that point because the CPSU no longer exists as an institution intended to ensure that the interests of various groups and institutions are taken into account.

            “Within the USSR,” the Moscow analyst says, “there were 15 republics, 43 military districts, and 57 ministries and agencies” at the end of the Soviet period. Each had its own representatives in “practically all settlements, districts, cities, oblasts and republics,” Kordonsky points out – and that pattern has continued.

            That allowed for tactical coordination but it precluded strategic coordination because of the functional differences of these representatives. That is what the CPSU in its hierarchy was intended to do and to prevent anyone else from doing. The CPSU is no more, and nothing has taken its place, thus making strategic planning difficult if not impossible, the scholar says.

            The USSR disintegrated “but not into 15 republics as independent states,” Kordonsky says. It fell apart into 16, with Moscow being the additional one.  “In Moscow were concentrated the resources of all the union ministries and agencies, the majority of military districts and there they remained after the USSR fell apart.”

            More importantly, Moscow in the form of these agencies “preserved its representation throughout the entire territory of the former Soviet Union.” That has mean that “the process of integration of Moscow into the Russian Federation is as yet incomplete.” 

            Complicating this picture still further and making coordination of strategic plans more difficult is that there is a lack of clarity as to which places are in which categories. Not only is Moscow an exception, but the number of cities of federal significance is four or five depending on who is counting. The same is true of municipal regions of federal significance and of urban settlement of the same category.

            As he develops his argument, Kordonsky insists that the thing which distinguished the structure of the Russian Federation from that of the Soviet Union is that in the former there is a lack of any “structure for the combination of interests of various elements of the division” of the country.

            Party plenums and congresses played that role in Soviet times, but no institution, including legislatures at all levels, does so now, the Moscow scholar says. There is no clear reporting requirement levied on any institution and responsibilities are blurred among them in most cases not only within one level but among the eight levels of territorial division.

            But there is something that does exist and plays a major role, institutions of “civil society of government employees” who have “replaced primary party organizations at the place of residence and work, at the level of districts, urban regions, and settlements.” And while not formally recognized by law, it is “very well institutionalized.”

            Its informal members meet at “the baths, the restaurant, the fishing hole, the hunt, the religious congregation (now, mostly Orthodox) and sports. These are institutions of civil society with the help of which are resolved tactical problems that arise at the level of a municipal district of settlement,” Kordonsky says.

            The appearance of such informal arrangements has left Russia in “a paradoxical situation: we have a very tightly constructed system for the agreement of tactical interests … but they do not engage in any planning, even operational, not to speak about strategic planning,” and that is a reflection of “the very structure of administrative-territorial arrangements.”

                Russia’s problems in this regard, he says, are compounded by two things. On the one hand, no other country in the world has as many levels of administrative-territorial division with so many crosscutting institutions.  And on the other, the ruling United Russia party “appears only at elections.” It can’t play the CPSU’s role and Russia is suffering as a result.

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