Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Putin’s ‘Russian World’ Rooted in Asymmetric Federalism, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 20 -- The asymmetric federalism the Soviets established and that Boris Yeltsin continued has mean that “Russian” was “de facto attached to “the imperial system,” and “this logically led in the Putin era to the appearance of the expansionist doctrine of ‘the Russian world,’” Vadim Shtepa says.

Almost 30 years ago, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says, Sergey Shakhray and Viktor Ilushin convinced Yeltsin that if predominantly ethnic Russian regions became republics, the entire country would fall apart; and as a result the first Russian president crushed all attempts in that direction (region.expert/opposition/).

But in doing so, they not only made it impossible for Russian oblasts and krays to develop as full-fledged regions but helped ensure that the Kremlin would become increasingly anti-non-Russian in its actions as it advances its Russian world idea and that the Russian opposition would fail to understand why federalism is critical to Russia’s future.

An example of this continuing failure of the Russian opposition, Shtepa suggests, is found in a new programmatic discussion of federalization on the Kasparov portal (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5EE33317EB0B8, discussed in part at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/06/moscow-has-thrown-regions-to-their.html).

Besides the somewhat strange analogies the Kasparov authors draw between 1991 and the pandemic now, they show a fundamental lack of understanding of the history of federalism in the Russian Federation, a lack of understanding that reflects the fact that most of those in the opposition are Muscovites rather than from beyond the ring road.

Beginning in July 1990, all the republics of the RSFSR except Daghestan and Mordvinia adopted sovereignty declarations and inserted them in their republic constitutions. They expected that this would allow them to participate in an equal basis in the future Commonwealth of Independent States.

But when it became obvious that the CIS was meaningless because the union republics didn’t want to form a federation or confederation with Moscow, the Russian Federation truly faced the prospect of disintegration along ethnic lines. Yeltsin responded by rejected republic status for the oblasts and krays and moving to gut the powers of the autonomous republics.

To that end, he pushed the Federative Treaty of 1992, a document which has very little to do with federalism as commonly understood.  It was not an accord among the regions, but rather “between the regions and the center,” with “the interests of the center from the beginning primary and sufficient onto themselves.”

That made Russian “federalism” “absolutely dependent on Kremlin leaders; and it is not surprising that to this day, it has remained only on paper,” the regionalist writer says.

The Kasparov writers also get other things wrong as well: The Federation Council was created in 1993 not in 1995. In the latter year, it only changed the way it was formed, with governors and heads of regional assemblies replacing senators elected directly by the population. Because most of the former were elected then, for a short time, it was a federation institution.

But in 2001, Vladimir Putin destroyed it and transformed in into “a dead institution, a sinecure for federal nomenklaturchiki, one in which many ‘senators’ in fact do not have any relations at all to the regions which they ‘represent.’” 

“All these transformations did not require any ‘amendments’ to the Constitution” as “in the 1993 Constitution, there is no reference to republic sovereignty or treaty relations.” Similarly, “the current ‘amendments’ in essence do not contradict that Constituiton but are only the next step on the path of centralization and unitarization.”

Unfortunately, Shtepa says, “the Russian opposition often shows just as centralist way of thinking as the powers that be.” Its members, almost all of whom are Muscovites or from Moscow, believe that the only thing needed to change Russia is the appearance of “’a good tsar’” in place of the current bad one.

When the direction of Russian development turns away from centralization to genuine federalism, he suggests, it will be necessary for the regions, all of which will have a status equal to republics, to agree on a new political capital, much as other countries have done, and ensure that economic and political power won’t be concentrated in the same place.

“Moscow is a concentrate of imperial meanings and symbols from the medieval ‘Third Rome’ to the Soviet stars over the Kremlin,” Shtepa says; but most opposition leaders don’t see this because for them as for the people inside the Kremlin, Moscow rather than Russia is the focus of their attention.

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