Sunday, May 19, 2019

Regional Heads Can’t Cope, Reducing Putin to a Crisis Manager, Some Russians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – Rosbalt commentator Ivan Preobrazhensky says that “the regional authorities are not coping with disorders and that as a result, the Kremlin is being forced to establish one crisis team after another, while Sergey Aksyonov of Svobodnaya pressa argues that this has reduced Vladimir Putin to being “a fireman” rather than a leader.

            According to Preoobrazhensky, the rising tide of protests in the provinces is forcing Moscow “again and again” to interfere in order to impose order,” sometimes overruling the local leaders and sometimes, as in Ingushetia, providing them with the resources and authorization to use force to maintain control (

                The commentator says that the Kremlin has “a whole staff” devoted to supervising what is going on in Ingushetia. Anton Vayno, the head of the Presidential Administration, has held meetings about the trash protests and the Arkhangelsk government’s response.  And Putin himself has been forced to respond to what is happening in Yekaterinburg.

            Thus, the problems in the regions are consuming the Kremlin and preventing it from focusing on larger issues, a development that Aksyonov and the experts he spoke with say is producing “a paralysis of power” in which Putin has been transformed into “a political fireman” dealing with tiny questions rather than real issues (

            Dmitry Zhuravlyev, head of the Moscow Institute of Regional Problems, says that “local officials very often are choosing ‘inaction’” and that has forced the Kremlin to intervene. Doing nothing often is the safest course for these officials, but if problems get out of hand, they need a push to do something and only Putin can provide that.   

            Such behavior by regional heads, he continues, reflects the fact that they are bureaucrats rather than politicians. In Russia today, “there is only one politician, President Putin.” He acts as a politician does figuring out how to solve a problem; the regional heads typically try to do as little as possible and to avoid attracting negative attention.

            Unfortunately, Zhuravlyev says, this means that Putin has to get involved in things that should be dealt with by local people even below the level of governors.  It is impressive that “to our president has the strength and time to do this,” the Moscow analyst continues in an ironic fashion.

            Putin, of course, didn’t create this situation. It existed under Yeltsin and Gorbachev as well.  Until and unless they intervened, nothing happened to change local trajectories.  But  neither they nor he can be everywhere or respond to everything and so problems keep cropping up that only the head of the country can cope with.

            Political analyst Aleksey Makarkin agrees, but he argues that this arrangement has both pluses and minuses. The big plus is that when a decision is made, it can be taken and implemented quickly because the president has the power. But the biggest minus is that everyone else tries to avoid taking any decision, knowing that Putin will be the one to decide.

            Or in some cases, local leaders try to decide only to become victim of charges of adventurism or worse.  That keeps ever more of them from doing what they need to do and forces Putin to spend more and more time doing jobs he should not have to be working at, Makarkin says.

            Unfortunately, this system isn’t going to change soon. To change would require strengthening institutions at all levels, and those managing the 2024 transition see that as a threat to a quiet shift in political arrangements at the top. But equally unfortunately, they do not see that without such institutions, the system will be in trouble as well, the Moscow analyst concludes.

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