Staunton, April 5 – Vladimir Putin’s decision to shift unpopular decisions to the regional leaders in order to avoid being held accountable at the cost of his ratings and reflecting his view that the appointed governors represent no threat to Moscow is proving to be a fundamental mistake, Ivan Preobrazhensky says.
It points not to the revival of federalism as in the US or Germany but rather to a new “parade of sovereignties” like the one that threatened the territorial integrity of the RSFSR 30 years ago and contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union, the Russian commentator says on Deutsche Welle (dw.com/ru/комментарий-карантинный-феодализм-в-россии/a-52992260).
“Russian propagandists often talk about the disintegration of a single Europe and the death of Shengen. But events in Russia itself are lading to concerns that visas soon will be required for Russians for trips from Kaluga Oblast to Leningrad Oblast. Or even from one region to another” within a single federal subject.
A minimum of 75 subjects have already introduced a quarantine under one name or another. Some are preventing the sale of alcohol and others have even introduced curfews. Chechnya and Moscow are only near the top of this list, Preobrazhensky continues.
One can perhaps understand this in the North Caucasus, “where block posts between many republics have remained since the 1990s. But even Crimea, which was annexed in 2014, doesn’t want tourists ‘from the big land.’”
The central authorities in Moscow have been giving verbal approval to what is happening even as they “ignore its possible consequences.” And as a result, “the regions continue to erect new borders” and non-Russian republics like Sakha and Chechnya are now talking about defending their own from the coronavirus by defending against outsiders.
This situation has arisen “because Vladimir Putin clearly doesn’t want to take responsibility for introducing a quarantine on the country as a whole. This would be an unpopular decision and his ratings apparently made more to him” than anything else. He’s counting on a boost once the situation stabilizes.
The Kremlin has thus handed over responsibility to the governors, having convinced itself that whatever they do they are no threat because they are Kremlin appointees and can be removed at will. But the collapse of transportation means that they are further away than Moscow thinks and may continue to act more independently.
Even those in nearby oblasts can’t be easily “called on the carpet” because Moscow would have to send a plane to bring them in, and the governors if they want can simply not answer the phone, Preobrazhensky continues. Moreover, they have the right to give orders to siloviki in their regions and they are using that.
Some in Moscow are tempted to compare this with what is happening in genuinely federal countries like the US and Germany. In their view, “Chechnya is simply introducing tougher quarantine rules much as the federal state of Bavaria or [the US] state of Wisconsin have done.”
“But this similarity is deceptive,” he points out. Russia hasn’t had federalism except in its name since Putin ended the direct elections of governors after Beslan and made the federal subjects financially and politically dependent on Moscow. Federalism could arise if Moscow reversed course and devolved power and money to the regions.
But that is not what is happening. Instead, “regional authorities are simply ‘seizing’ additional authorities even though their orders are often ‘illegal.’” That doesn’t appear to both Moscow because Moscow itself often is issuing illegal orders as well. ”But this isn’t federalism. It is feudalism of the clearest kind.”
“The vassals are seizing power, and in the future, they will inevitably begin to trade with the center,” just as Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov has been accustomed to doing. If this situation intensifies and “Putin continues to distance himself from responsibility, this could end with the paralysis of the central power and ‘a parade of sovereignties’” like 30 years ago.
Everyone, of course, remembers how that ended.