Staunton, December 15 – A study by a group of scholars at the Academy of Sciences designed to assess which federal districts might be able to make it on their own and to encourage the Kremlin to decentralize and revive federalism in fact shows that the Russia of today more closely resembled a classic empire than did the USSR, Vadim Shteppa says.
The study, described at finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/v-akademii-nauk-proschitali-scenarii-raspada-rossii-na-federalnye-okruga-1028729662, has already attracted considerable attention (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/discussions-about-russias-future-should.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/russias-north-west-federal-district.html.
But Shtepa, editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, focuses on a key dimension that some have ignored: “if the RSFSR within the USSR was the ‘central’ republic and in fact ‘supported’ all the rest, then today’s ‘center’ is doing exactly the opposite,” extracting resources for Moscow rather than giving them to the republics (severreal.org/a/30319802.html).
It thus turns out, the regionalist writer says, that “post-Soviet Russia more clearly resembles a classical empire than did the USSR, the disintegration of which was celebrated as ‘a victory over an empire.’” Now, the headquarters of the biggest firms are in Moscow and pay taxes there, even though their income comes from the regions.
The Academy of Sciences study is thus in error when it compares the former union republics with the present-day federal districts, Shtepa continues. If the former even according to the Soviet Constitution had the right to free exit from the USSR, the latter have a completely different status.”
They aren’t even mentioned in the 1993 Constitution. After all, they were created only in 2000 and done so “on the basis of military districts.” His chief goal in setting them up was to enhance the Kremlin’s control over the governors who at that time were still elected by the people.
But even when direct elections of governors was ended in 2004, the federal districts were retained “as an additional means for the ‘federal’ nomenklatura” to boost themselves and control the country. They are thus not “political subjects” as the Soviet Union republics were, and they are not led by officials who even nominally are chosen by their populations.
Suggesting that they could play a similar role for the Russian Federation as the Academy of Sciences study does is thus “somewhat strange,” Shtepa argues. They aren’t the basis for any political drive toward independence and they cannot serve as the foundation for the development of genuine federalism as the Academy’s researchers hope.
“Real federalism begins with subjects of the federation that really exist and are enumerated in the Constitution” and that reflect the will of the people on their territories. That is not a description of the federal districts now, the regionalist says. But that doesn’t mean that they may not come to play a role as Russia evolves.
If Russia moves to restore federalism among its subject territories, “the federal districts could really acquire a new meaning to promote inter-regional coordination rather than serve as Kremlin’s watchers.” But for that to happen, the Kremlin will have to reverse its continuing efforts to strengthen its power vertical. Otherwise loose talk about the FDs is empty.