Thursday, May 23, 2019

Protests in Russian Regions rather than Non-Russian Republics May Shift Moscow’s View of Federalism, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – The fact that the two most important protests outside of Moscow in recent weeks have not been in non-Russian republics but in predominantly ethnic Russian regions is a “positive” development which may allow some in Moscow to recognize that federalism is not another word for separatism, Abbas Gallyamov says.

            The former Putin speechwriter says that “neither the people of Yekaterinburg nor the residents of Arkhangelsk can be called ethnic nationalists or separatists;” and consequently, the fact that they represent a serious conflict between the center and the regions undoubtedly is positive news” (

            No one in Moscow can denounce them as separatists and consequently the issue of power-sharing changes, Gallyamov continues. “In this situation, the chances increase that the so-called ‘liberals’ in the leadership will be able to win a victory over ‘the hawks’ and the problem of changing the relationship between the center and the regions will be resolved in dialogue.”   

            That is likely an overly optimistic assessment not only because, although the Moscow commentator doesn’t mention it, there are serious ethnic conflicts going on in Ingushetia, Sakha, and elsewhere; and any talk in Moscow about moving in the direction of any kind of decentralization will certainly involve discussions about these.

            Moreover as long as there are any national republics or even non-Russian nations aspiring to have one are within the borders of the Russian Federation, officials in the Kremlin are likely to continue to think about federalism in terms of its possible impact on the territorial integrity of the country rather than its impact on how the country can be better run.

            Gallyamov is just one of the experts IdelReal journalist Ramazan Alpaut interviewed in the wake of the anti-Moscow trash protests in the Arkhangelsk area and the demonstrations in Yekaterinburg to build a cathedral in the city’s main square.   

            Moscow political analyst Konstantin Kalachev observes that in Yekaterinburg, “local and regional authorities were not able by any means to resolve the conflict without advice from above,” aa reflection of the fact that Russia today is “a centralized state” in which officials at all levels are subordinate to the powers that be in the center.

            “But even in such circumstances, one can and must take responsibility for one’s actions …[as] unitary systems do not necessarily live only under a constant regime of hands’ own management from Moscow.  When centralization reaches to such an absurd level,” Kalachev says, “then federalism gains popularity.”

            The chief problem today in relations between the center and the regions grows out of a fundamental contradiction. “On the one hand, the center demands improved results, a growth in effectiveness, and readiness to carry out unpopular decisions” but “on the other, it wants the preservation of administrative control and social stability at any price.”

            This is “the Scylla and Charybdis” through which leaders have to navigate, he says. Putin realizes this is a problem, but the Kremlin leader doesn’t know what to do. Perhaps, Kalachev concludes, it is finally time to rethink some of this and open the way to a system in which those in power will care more about the population below them than those officials above them.

            Finally, Dmitry Oreshkin, another Moscow analyst, stresses another point. He notes that “the very Russian model of administration presupposes control but not development. In such a situation, all the regions are equally powerless” and lack mechanisms to influence decisions in the center.

            “The power vertical is good from the point of view of control over territory, but it is bad from the point of view of development.” It can deal with foreign threats by dispatching people and resources to counter them. That is enough to solve things. But in doing so, Oreshkin says, the system fails in an important sense: “the territory so defended doesn’t develop.”

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