Saturday, November 12, 2016

Rumors Swirling that Kremlin Will Abolish Federal Districts to Save Money

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 12 – According to the, experts “close to the Kremlin” say that the Presidential Administration is now discussing “territorial reform,” including the abolition of federal districts and together with them the presidential plenipotentiaries and the strengthening of plenipotentiary “curators” in the federation subjects (

            The Urals news agency has a good track record as far as what the Kremlin is discussing, but it is uncertain whether Vladimir Putin will willingly scrap an institutional arrangement that he created in the first days of his presidency and has relied on ever since or whether such rumors reflect broader discussions about changes in the structure of the Russian Federation.

            But however that may be, the report makes the discussion at a meeting in Kazan on Thursday about federalism and the report about it the following day in Moscow’s “Kommersant” newspaper particularly important (  and

            The Kazan meeting, entitled “Federalism as a Guarantee of the Stability of Statehood under Contemporary Conditions,” was advertised as the beginning of preparations for the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Tatarstan that are slated to be held in 2020.

            Not surprisingly, the lead speakers defended federalism as the foundation of the stability of the Russian state, implicitly suggesting that any challenges to current arrangements, ranging from changing borders to amalgamating republics to equalizing the status of non-Russian republics and predominantly Russian regions would have serious consequences.

            Shakir Yagudin, the head of the committee on law of Tatarstan’s State Council said that efforts at equalization were especially dangerous because a diverse country needs diverse arrangements and the republics, if they become nothing more than oblasts, deprive the country of one of “the ties” holding it together.

            Rafael Khakimov, the former advisor to the president of the republic and currently vice president of Tatarstan’s Academy of Sciences, described Tatarstan, which has fought hard to defend its prerogatives against Moscow’s encroachment, as “an island of federalism” in Russia that has helped maintain stability.

            But the most important speaker was Mintimir Shaymiyev, the former president of Tatarstan.  He said that too many Tatarstan officials do not know the constitution of their republic and thus have accepted the gutting of its provisions.  It is important to continue to resist Moscow’s moves against federalism that could mean that “nothing of it will remain.”

            In other comments, the former Tatarstan leader said that “at the federal level are appearing many ‘parallel structures,’ which duplication the powers of the regions” even though according to the Russian constitution, “state power in the subjects of the Russian Federation should be realized by their respective organs of state power.”

            And, “Kommersant” reported, he reiterated his longstanding opposition to “the amalgamation of Russian regions [by Moscow] since without the agreement of the subjects themselves, no one has the right to change their borders.”

            In Putin’s Russia, those are brave positions to express; and Kazan’s “Business Gazeta” suggests that some in Kazan were so worried about coverage of them that they tried to reduce the number of journalists who would be present at a meeting and for a speech of the former president of the republic (

            The government announced the meeting only an hour or so before it began and did not invite many journalists, including any representatives from “Business Gazeta.” Clearly, someone in the Tatarstan political hierarchy hoped to avoid having many people pay attention to the kind of statements such a meeting would feature.

            “On the one hand,” the paper said, there could be no question of showing some respect for Shaimiyev given his past status and involvement in the adoption of the republic’s constitution. But “on the other hand, many things which he says in such circumstances, given the current situation, apparently look entirely too bold.”

            The Kazan paper noted “in this connection” that Shaimiyev was not allowed to speak “at a celebration of the 25th anniversary of parliamentarianism” at the open session but only at the closed banquet.  Shaimiyev’s constant use of the term “sovereignty” is something Moscow doesn’t like as is his references, delivered in Tatar, of Tatarstan’s defense of it in its basic law.

            All this suggests that something is going on and that officials in Moscow and the republics and regions are on the brink of some major organizational changes.

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