Staunton, June 22 – Russian federalists have long advocated raising the status of predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays to that of the non-Russian autonomous republics, an argument that might have made sense in the 1990s but that has been vitiated by the actions of Vladimir Putin since, Vadim Shtepa says.
Among those who have made that argument is Russian scholar Maksim Goryunov (reforum.io/contents/uploads/2021/04/federalizacia-web.pdf). But he forgets, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says, that that made sense only when, as in the 1990s, the republics had far more rights (reforum.io/blog/2021/06/18/federacziya-dlya-vseh-ili-ni-dlya-kogo/ reposted at region.expert/for_everyone_or_for_no_one/).
The Federative Treaty of 1992 established a kind of “asymmetric” federalism in that “republics were given greater legislative and economic authority than oblasts and krays.” Two republics, Chechnya and Tatarstan, did not feel it went far enough in that direction and refused to sign, and many Russian oblasts and krays tried to gain status in various ways.
But “Putin at the beginning of the 2000s liquidated the ‘privileged’ status of the republics. This did not result in equality but rather ‘shared rightlessness.’” The oblasts and krays did not get the chance to raise their status to that of the republics; instead, the republics were lowered to the status of the oblasts and krays.”
To restore or more precisely create federalism in Russia thus requires that the regions and republics have equal rights and that their relations with each other be the foundation on which any central government will be created. Reducing the question of federalism to that of the non-Russian republics is thus a mistake.
“A federation begins,” Shtepa argues, “not with ethnicity but with regional self-administration.” And that is a common problem now for both oblasts and krays, on the one hand, and republics, on the other. Increasing number of people in the oblasts and krays recognize this important fact.
One reason it is so is that “the entire population of the national republics in the Russian Federation forms only 18 percent of the all-Russian figure.” That means that even if they were all to become independent, the remaining regions would still have to work out relations with each other. Their exist would not mark the immediate “end of the centralized empire.”
Instead, in that event, the empire would simply become smaller just as happened in 1991 when “the Russian Federation, although smaller than the USSR, did not cease to be an empire” as a result of the acquisition of independence of the union republics.
Khabarovsk lawyer Konstantin Bubon, for example, has argued that “federative relations are not only and not so much the relations between the regions and the federal government. For me, a federation in the first instance is about the interrelationships of the regions among themselves” (reforum.io/blog/2020/05/05/moskovskaya-politika-stroitsya-na-nedoverii-k-regionam/).
Other regionalists agree, all the more so because they have learned that the center will undermine any federation that is not built on the primacy of the self-administration of each component and on the interrelationships of the oblasts, krays, and republics. (For examples, see the recent discussion on federalism at the Free Russia Forum at region.expert/reg-roundtable/).
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