Staunton, May 29 – Because Vladimir Putin is interested in controlling Russia rather than in developing it, Dmitry Oreshkin says, the Kremlin leader has liquidated the federal arrangements that Boris Yeltsin began to put in place after 1991 and restored the Soviet style of territorial arrangements.
Under the Soviet system of territorial management, the center minimized internal differences, ignored what it could, and resolved problems by the “very primitive” use of force, the commentator says. Moscow gave orders and sent out punitive teams; it did not work with the regions (idelreal.org/a/29968527.html).
“The center decided what it needed on a given territory, it ensured that that territory was absolutely subordinate and it didn’t matter whether that territory was called Estonia, Tajikistan or Chukotka,” Oreshkin continues. That is because “all were equally without rights” and all were “equally subordinate to a single strong man.”
That is what Stalin created; and that is what Putin has worked to restore.
One of the reasons that he has been able to do so is the memory in many Russians of the collapse of the USSR. They believe that asymmetrical federal lines led to the end of their country and they don’t want to have that happen again. “Therefore, when Putin arrived on the scene, the first thing he did was to destroy federalism.”
The first step was to undermine the Federation Council which under Yeltsin had become politically powerful and genuinely represented the regions and republics. Then he moved to subordinate the 85 regions to eight or nine federal subjects to minimize regional differences and make it easier for the Kremlin to tun the country.
“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,” Oreshkin says. It can move force about to suppress threats external or internal, but it can’t motivate people to develop the country and hence Russia has slipped back into stagnation or worse.
What Putin does not understand is this: Politics is so constructed that “no one will say” when things get bad ‘Guys, forgive me. I’m an idiot. I cannot guarantee you a good standard of living.’ Instead, [regional leaders] will always say ‘I’m smart, but there are idiots sitting in Moscow.’” That is the beginning of the end of the system.
Yeltsin was compelled to try to reach agreements with such people; and when he left office, he said that “his main mistake was the war in Chechnya.” Not just because of its direct costs but because it marked the end of trying to reach compromises and a return to the use of force as the ultima ratio within the country.
Today, the regions have little or no possibility to influence the center; and the center, as in Soviet times, is not fulfilling its most important functions because it doesn’t have to in order to survive. That was true in Soviet times, and Putin has made it true again. And there is no good way to escape from this.
“The technology of peaceful agreements did not exist” in Soviet times and “therefore, when Gorbachev began to try” to work one out, everything came apart. Now, Putin is not trying to find a path toward compromise and getting away with it because people remember what happened when the first and last Soviet president tried.