Staunton, April 3 – When Vladimir Putin shifted responsibility to the regions for unpopular measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Ilya Grashchenkov says, “many observers began to talk abut a renaissance of Russian federalism.” But the Kremlin leader’s decision to replace four governors shows there are severe limits to that.
The director of the Moscow Center for the Development of Regional Policy argues that “federalization is taking place but according to the Medvedev principle that ‘there is no money but you hold on.’” Thus the regions are told to take decisions but not given the funds needed to carry them out (newizv.ru/article/general/03-04-2020/ilya-graschenkov-regiony-k-demoskvalizatsii-podtalkivaet-ne-virus-a-sam-kreml).
As a result, it is not the pandemic but the system itself that “is pushing the subjects to a new wave of ‘de-Muscovization,’” something that includes moving their economies into the gray sector from which Moscow cannot take resources as easily. The Kremlin can see this and can see that the actions of the governors are leaving them and the government as a whole less popular.
Not surprisingly, Putin has responded by firing four more governors in a display of his power but also as a concession to popular anger. More are likely to be removed in the coming weeks including the heads of Rostov, Penza, Bryansk, Kostroma and Smolensk oblasts and Krasnodar kray, Grashchenkov says.
But it is not clear whether sacking unpopular governors will be enough to check the growing anger at Moscow. As Mikhail Dmitriyev, the head of the New Economic Growth Partnership observes, the pandemic has shown Moscow is the source of infection for the rest of country and that if it were isolated, it would be possible to lift quarantine measures elsewhere (business-gazeta.ru/article/463711).
The longer the pandemic continues and the more problems quarantines create for the population, the fewer Russians beyond the ring road are likely going to be pacified by the sacking of governors however unpopular given the center’s unwillingness to take responsibility and to allow the regions to have the resources they need.