Friday, December 9, 2016

For the First Time, Putin Didn’t Mention Federalism in His Address to the Federal Assembly

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 9 – The first reactions by Russian writers to Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly this year focused on what he did say; now, commentators and analysts are focusing on the equally or perhaps even more significant meaning of what he did not mention or discuss.

            For the first time in his 13 addresses to the Federal Assembly, Eduard Urazayev of the Kavkazskaya politika portal notes, the Kremlin leader made no mention at all of federalism and local administration and talked about the regions only in terms of their responsibility for obeying Moscow (

                In Putin’s addresses during his first two terms, the North Caucasus commentator says, “the theme of centralization or decentralization of power and the taking into account of the specific features of the regions was if not in the center of attention, nonetheless a focal point. There was even the slogan ‘strong regions – strong Russia.’”

            But beginning with his third term, the situation changed dramatically. In 2012, for example, he talked only about the federal districts which he had created earlier. This change “can be explained by the strengthening of the vertical of executive power,” by the rise of United Russia, and by the creation of federal supervisory organs in the regions.

            Even given that, however, “it is difficult to imagine that there is no need to take up regional policy” given the conclusions of various experts and the diverse situation which exists in the federal subjects, Urazayev says who acknowledges that he was all in favor of Moscow assuming more control over the regions initially given the problems of the 1990s.

            And during the first seven years of Putin’s rule, federal intervention did work wonders and created “a definite balance of forces which when needed could be corrected via the Presidential Administration, the territorial organs of the federal ministries and administrations and also major companies.”

            “However,” the North Caucasus observer continues, “beginning with 2008, under the impact of the world financial and economic crisis and the conflict with Georgia over South Osetia, and also continuing terrorist activity, the centralization of power began to intensify” and the consequences were not good.

            In ever more cases, he says, “the principle that ‘the vassal of my vassal is my vassal’ operated.” And with the events in Crimea and Ukraine beginning in 2014, the system of state administration was transformed into a still more centralized bureaucratic system” in which the previous equilibrium of forces was destroyed.

            As a result, the old principle about vassal relationships changed. “Ever more the principle became ‘the vassal of my vassal is not my vassal,” given that Moscow showed ever less interest in what was happening below the level of the regional and republic heads as long as they turned out the vote for United Russia and kept things quiet.

            In this new situation, Moscow “does not pay attention to the large number of complaints or the scandalous cases of violations of the law by the heads of republics or to the false statistics they are reporting, not to the low ratings of the effective use of finances” or to many other issues that the center should be concerned about.

             As a result, Urazayev argues, “regional policy is ineffective” especially concerning cadres. Things might have been different if the whole country were mobilized but that has not happened, and “now the country stands before a serious challenge in the form of departure from government and municipal service of qualified cadres … and falling trust” from business and civil society.”

            As even pro-government experts recognize, current regional policy is promoting not the unity of the country but rather its division into successes and failures. Promoting patriotism isn’t enough if there isn’t a serious regional policy to back it up.  In short, “a new regional policy” is needed, one based on the Constitution.

            Only by gradual decentralization of power in all areas, including taxation, by greater competition in order to produce better cadres, and by the increased involvement of the federal authorities to ensure that Russian laws are enforced throughout the country can the country hope to move forward, he says.

            Indeed, unless these things are done, Russia will not be able to “reduce the negative consequences of centralization, unification and unfortunately neo-feudalization.”

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