Monday, March 13, 2017

Navalny No Supporter of Federalism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 13 – Opposition presidential candidate Aleksey Navalny may offer a variety of positive ideas for the future of Russia compared to those of Vladimir Putin. But in one critical area, he does not represent a break from the current Kremlin leader: he is just as opposed to real federalism as Putin is and just as committed to a Moscow-centric approach.

            Two commentaries on the AfterEmpire portal make this point clearly. In the first, Tatyana Vintsevskaya argues that while Navalny says some of the right things about the dangers of hyper-centralism, he shows no interest in promoting genuine federalism or the institutions that would make that possible (

            Indeed, she continues, Navalny’s recent interview to the ZNAK portal shows that “many views of ‘the main opposition figure’ remain the same and are practically indistinguishable from the point of view of the authorities, especially when they touch on federalism” (

                On the one hand, she says, Navalny says some of the right things when he speaks in generalities. Thus, he says “super-centralism is idiotism.” But on the other, when he talks about specifics, he sounds like Putin: He’s opposed to changing the way profits from firms are handled, opposed to new power-sharing arrangements, and opposed to Russian republics within Russia.

            Navalny praises the Urals as “’the Russian Texas’” but calls the idea of a Urals Republic “some kind of devilish extremist action.’”  Cities should have more power, but apparently, Russians should haven’t more rights to organize their lives as they see fit.

            Indeed, Vintsevskaya continues, Navalny’s support for cities appears to be driven by his concern that only stronger cities can “exclude separatism” by the regions. “Competition must be not between Sverdlovsk Oblast and Perm Kray but between Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Tagil,” he told ZNAK.

                And she concludes by pointing out that “neither in this interview … nor in his pre-electon program has Navalny mentioned even once the need for signing a new federative agreement in Russia.” Instead, he has made comments that suggest he believes, like Putin, that Moscow must hold all the reins in its hand or face the prospect of separatism.

            In the second commentary on Navalny, entitled “The Muscovite in ‘the Provinces,’” Ilnar Garifullin extends Vintsevskaya’s observation noting that while visiting Kazan, the opposition leader went out of his way to say that he believes that “bilateral treaties between the federal center and the subjects of the federation are an anachronism” (

            “Federalism in Navalny’s understanding,” the Tatarstan analyst says, “doesn’t consist of agreements about joint existence between various peoples and regions of the Russian Federation. For him, federalism is first of all the redistribution of financial resources” by the center from one region to another.

            Moreover, despite being in non-Russian areas, Navalny “said nothing about the problem of the status of state languages in the national republics.” He clearly doesn’t want to lose any ethnic Russian support, but he isn’t going to pick up any non-Russian support with such dismissive attitudes.

            Navalny says many fine and necessary things about the struggle with corruption and even “in principle” the need for decentralization, Garifullin says. But at the same time, he doesn’t seem capable of moving beyond the status of “’a Muscovite visiting the provinces’” and to think about Russia of the regions and republics and not just of Moscow and everything else.

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