Monday, January 16, 2017

‘Revolt of Governors’ So Large at Gaidar Forum the Kremlin Tried to Hide It, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 16 – One after another, governors from Russia’s regions spoke in support of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov’s criticism of Moscow for its unilateral changes in tax policy, an event others at the Gaidar Forum said was “the most interesting development” in Russia recently as it is the largest “revolt of the governors” in Putin’s time.

Indeed, the best indication of just how serious a development this is was provided by the way in which the Kremlin tried to hide it. Putin’s favorite biker was dispatched to the meeting guaranteeing that the media would cover that unusual occurrence rather than the substance of the meeting, Vitaly Portnikov observes (

Minnnikhanov said no more in Moscow than he had said earlier in Kazan to the Tatarstan State Council, remarks the Ukrainian commentator suggests some had been inclined to dismiss as directed at his local audience rather than representing a considered policy and challenge to Moscow.

But by repeating his words in the Russia capital on Saturday, the Tatarstan president showed that they were for more than local consumption and the reaction he got – all the governors who spoke supported him. (For details of these discussions, see the report by Kazan’s “Business-Gazeta” at

“This of course is not yet a revolt of the elites,” Portnikov continues. “But it is a turn of events” which recalls what happened in the 1990s.  At that time, first the all-union and then the all-Russian center “lost its customary functions of redistributing money among the regions and the weight of regional leaders immediately rose.”

Indeed, he points out, it was in that context that then Russian leader Boris Yeltsin uttered his fateful words to Minnikhakov’s predecessor, Mintimir Shaymiyev: “take as much sovereignty as you can swallow” and thus opened the way to more regional independence than ever before or since.

“Putin and Minnikhanov were formed in completely different circumstances,” Portnikov continues. “However, the time is approaching when the federal center is again being deprived of its functions as a distributor in view of the declining amount of money available.” And that raises some interesting questions.

“What will they decide in Moscow to do in response?” There are no good answers: seizing even more funds from the donor regions won’t make them or their leaders happy and won’t solve the problems of the recipient ones either. And firing governors who complain would given their numbers would only exacerbate the situation.

It is thus no surprise that others at the meeting found this “the most interesting” aspect of the proceedings. But it may lead to even more interesting developments than they suspect: That is because it shows that “in an authoritarian country, an institutional crisis inevitably follows an economic one.”

That is, after all, why the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

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