Staunton, July 17 – A new report by the Moscow Center for the Analysis and Prevention of Conflicts says that Moscow missed the chance at the start of Vladimir Putin’s reign to develop a Russia in which there would be both a strong center and strong regions. Now, as a result of his policies, any chance for federalism in Russia is rapidly “fading away.”
The 124-page report, entitled Fading Federalism: Tatarstan and Daghestan under Conditions of Continuing Centralization, was prepared by Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, the center’s director, sociologist Yekaterina Khodzhayeva and Caucasus specialist Denis Sokolov (cap-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Угасающий-федерализм-Татарстан-и-Дагестан-в-условиях-продолжающейся-централизации.pdf).
After the disintegration of the USSR, the authors say, Russia “accepted the federative form of administration,” a reflection of the country’s enormous size, diverse populations, pre-existing territorial divisions, and “what is the main thing, excessively strong centrifugal forces and ethnic separatism at that moment.”
In the 1993 Constitution, the country’s non-Russian republics “received state status with their own constitutions, parliaments, president and supreme courts.” They could adapt legislation and rule to the needs and demands of their own population. But such a system required institutions and habits of mind Russia did not have.
Real federalism needs not only institutional arrangements including an independent constitutional court and real political competition but also the willingness to engage in and accept the outcomes of often difficult negotiations among the components of the system. This Russia lacked and lacks to this day, the report says.
The authors conclude that “the weakness of Russian federalism in the 1990s can be explained by the weakness of the federal center.” The center clearly required strengthening; and when Putin came to power committed to that, many expected that Russia would finally be on the road to a system combining a strong center with strong regions.
“But this chance was missed,” the authors say. “Instead of the development of the federation, the leadership of the country step by step deprived the regions of their former sovereignty having formed a super-centralized system of administration.” And the situation became even worse when Putin was elected to a third term.
From that time onward, they say, the federal center has striven to unify the regions and reduce to as little as possible the federal distinctiveness of the national republics. It has intensified its assimilatory policies by dropping the requirement that residents of the republic study the language of the titular nationality.
And the Kremlin centralized both the financial system, ensuring that Moscow could control the amount of funds any region had to spend, but the leadership system, making clear to heads of republics that they would be removed if they stood up for their republics against the center. (Chechnya is the only “exception of the rule.”)
The new study is especially useful because it compares the way in which this evolution has proceeded in two republics, Tatarstan which is a success story economically and Daghestan which is one of the poorest and has required the most assistance from Moscow. That these trends are true in both of them shows that they are the case for the entire federal system.