Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Moscow ‘Feds’ Step Up Campaign Against Remnants of Russian ‘Federalism,’ Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 27 – Kremlin officials are now working on a program that will “finally deprive” the regions of the Russian of any independent standing and thus transform them as a matter of law and not just practice from being “subjects” of the federation into the objects of Moscow’s administration, according to Vadim Shtepa.

            The Russian regionalist, now living in exile in Estonia, points to a Russian Security Council discussion last week at which Vladimir Putin spoke as evidence of this unfortunate and fateful development (forbes.ru/mneniya/vertikal/329287-dom-kotoryi-stroyat-s-kryshi-pochemu-v-rossii-provalivaetsya-regionalnaya-po).

            The Kremlin reported only Putin’s remarks (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/52947), but even they by themselves, when compared with earlier Russian government pronouncements on relations between Moscow and the federal subjects clearly indicate when the Kremlin leader wants to take the country, Shtepa continues.

            In his speech, Putin made reference to the 1996 document that the Russian government adopted on regional policy but stressed that the new document, adopted last year, on “The Foundations of State Policy of Regional Development” was the basis for action over the next decade.

            That document, prepared by the economic development ministry and originally posted at economy.gov.ru/minec/about/structure/depstrateg/20150429_01 has since been removed for some reason. But Shtepa notes that he examined the original and compared it at the time with the 1996 regional policy paper (gazeta.ru/comments/2015/05/28_a_6737745.shtml).

            The main difference between the 1996 document and the 2015 one, he points out, is that “in the new one, the regions lose the status as subjects of the federation and are converted into objects of administration from the center.”  That arrangement can be called, as Shtepa did a year ago, “’post-federalism.’”

            The 2015 document which Putin says the country must follow lacks any reference to “’the equality of subjects’” or “’the decentralization of power.’”  It distinguishes regions only in terms of their level of economic success, with some getting more powers because of their gains and others less because they have done less well.

            Putin last week said that such disproportions “lead to disproportions” in budget allocations and thus to “a break in the level of incomes and the social guarantees of people living in various subjects of the Russian Federation.”  What he did not say or acknowledge is that these differences are the result of his own hyper-centralized “power vertical,” Shtepa says.

            But an even more significant difference between the 1996 document and its 2015 replacement is that there is no reference in the latter, despite their being one in the former, to the need to decentralize the amount of taxes each region can collect. After 1996, there were at least some moves to ensure that the regions would get back half of what they paid. But not now.

            Not only are the regions unlikely to get that much money, but they are told by Putin and the new conception that they should rely in the first instance on “’internal reserves of development,’” a possibility if they were able to tax the firms actually working in their area but now registered in Moscow but something the new arrangements don’t call for.

            What all this shows, Shtepa continues, is that in Russia today, “’the feds’” are very much opposed to federalism.

            The reason Putin has moved in this direction just now, he suggests, is that the recent elections left all the outsiders he has installed in regions in place and that there is now no reason to hide his desire to centralize the country even more – and to encourage his subordinates to centralize power within their respective fiefdoms.

            That is already happening in Karelia, Shtepa, who comes from that region, says, and it can be expected to spread to other regions as Moscow works to reduce them to the status of provinces.

            All this, he says, recalls what Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky once said about the Russian state tradition. Russian rulers, he remarked, invariably build the roof of their state before building its foundations. And that is one of the reasons why the Russian state periodically collapses on itself (thelib.ru/books/borogan_i/vladimir_bukovskiy_rossiya_raspadetsya_na_sem_chastey-read.html).

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