Sunday, May 31, 2020

Russia’s Governors have Been Strengthened ‘Only on Paper,’ Kokko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 30 – Despite the paranoid comments of some in Moscow, Dmitry Kokko says, the additional responsibilities Vladimir Putin has given the governors are not going to produce separatism because the central government has not given them sufficient resources or the power to raise them on their own to act independently.

            When Putin told the Federal Assembly that the role of the governors must be expanded, many of them were excited about the possibility, the Russian commentator says; and when he proposed changing the Constitution to include a State Council, some of them expected to play a role in that new body (

            But when it became clear that the amendments were all about allowing Putin to remain in office for as long as he wants, the governors quickly recognized that the Kremlin leader wasn’t planning to decentralize power but rather to concentrate even more in his own hands – and that hasn’t changed with the pandemic.

            What has happened since the onset of that crisis is that the Kremlin has delegated to the governors “not so much authority as responsibility” and without independent resources to act. Moscow is seeking to avoid responsibility; but it certainly isn’t moving to federalize the country as much as so many hope or fear, Kokko says.

            Journalist Maksim Shevchenko concurs. He tells the commentator that Putin views federalism as a bomb that Lenin put under the territorial integrity of the country even though any rational analysis shows that what the Bolshevik leader was about was saving the empire and dealing with the enormous diversity across its territory.

            At the time of the revolution, the non-Russians and many Russians as well were angry at the central government, Shevchenko says. They had good reason. After all, “the Russian Empire was a prison house of peoples, and this is not a metaphor.”  And acting as if the same thing is the case now will only work to make it true.

            What the regions and republics want is not separatism but rather the ability to carry out their responsibilities. Most governors are technocrats or economic managers, not politicians; and they aren’t going to mobilize people against the center in pursuit of any exit from the Russian Federation, he argues.

            The fears some in Moscow have on this point are simply unwarranted paranoia, he suggests. And the unitary system they have and want to maintain is simply designed “in order to finally convert Russia into a colony” disguised by appeals to Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationality but designed to be sold off to “English, French or Chinese capitalists.”

            But if paranoia is unwarranted, it is instructive, Shevchenko says. It suggests that “the supreme powers are frightened, have handed over responsibility and put their heads in the sand. This isn’t a step toward federalization but rather an indication of powers lacking confidence in themselves.”

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