Staunton, May 26 –One of the unexpected developments in Russia as a result of the pandemic is that the heads of regions and republics now have higher ratings than Vladimir Putin even though he appointed them and they have little power independent of what he allows them, Vadim Shtepa says.
That is just one of the paradoxes and inconsistencies in Russian politics beyond the ring road today, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says, patterns that raise questions as to how long these things can be maintained and how they will be resolved after the pandemic passes (severreal.org/a/30635339.html).
Putin, “who has self-isolated in his Moscow bunker” has handed over responsibility to right the pandemic to the governors. And despite the expectations of nearly everyone, including quite likely Putin himself, they have begun to take independent decisions without waiting for directives from Moscow as they had in the past.
Many governors have taken the easy way out, blindly copying whatever Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has done on the assumption that the mayor of the capital has the approval of the man in the Kremlin basement. But others have struck out on their own in ways that go far beyond anything Putin or Sobyanin might have anticipated.
One who has is Artur Parfenchikov, the head of the Karelian Republic, who on his own initiative stopped all public transport and blocked the entrance of people from elsewhere, including Moscow, lest they import the infection – and this despite Putin’s direct warning not to do that.
Another paradox in this situation is that governors like Parfenchikov have acted without any legal basis. “It is possible this is connected with the obvious legal chaos which the Kremlin introduced earlier in the year by announcing its constitutional amendments.” That has allowed governors the chance to navigate between the old rules and the new.
And yet a third paradox and inconsistency is the willingness of the head of the Komi Republic to come out against the Kremlin’s latest amalgamation plan and, even worse, to publicly declare that any such plans should come “from below” rather than “from on high,” exactly the opposite of the way the Putin system operates.
Clearly, since the start of the year and the onset of the pandemic, “the status of governors has significantly risen.” The question is now” “will they be able to hold onto it?” If they only seek to boost their approval ratings, the answer is no because the Kremlin has the power to outplay them.
But “if instead they prefer to establish contacts with civil societies at the regional level, this almost unbelievable choice could become the beginning of a new political era. But, only a few months ago, at the start of this year, “much that has happened seemed improbable and even impossible as well.”