Staunton, July 4 – Most analysts are focusing on the election to the Duma in September and on Moscow antics of the leaders of the systemic opposition, but on the same day, Russians will be voting for 39 regional legislatures, something that may be more important because it is likely to bring to the fore regional opposition leaders within those parties, Vadim Shtepa says.
The editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says that in genuine federal systems, future leaders arise “not in the capital but in the states and lander” and they do so within existing parties rather than as spokesman for outsiders. Russia is not now a federation, and Moscow has banned regionalist parties. But something similar has been taking place (svoboda.org/a/raskonservatsiya-vadim-shtepa-o-politicheskom-peyzazhe/31333300.html).
The only way for a rising Russian politician to be elected to regional parliaments, Shtepa continues, is to become part of the machine of one or another of the systemic parties. But making that choice does not mean that such people have signed on to the often hyper-centralist visions of even the systemic opposition in Moscow.
Instead, in recent years, candidates who have won in the regions while nominally KPRF, LDPR, or Just Russia have taken positions that are radically at variance with the Muscovites; and it is entirely reasonable to assume that they have won because they have done so not because they are genuine exponents of the Moscow programs of these parties.
Among the examples he gives of this pattern is former Khabarovsk governor Sergey Furgal who openly declared that his party was not so much LDPR as Khabarovsky Kray, a position that led the LDPR leadership in Moscow not to come to his defense when the Kremlin removed him but prompted massive and lengthy demonstrations in his support.
A second example of this pattern is that of Oleg Mikhaylov, who was elected to the Komi Republic State Council on the KPRF list but who openly said that Moscow’s efforts to create trash dumps in the North, including in his Komi Republic, were nothing more than “a colonial policy,” hardly the words communist leaders in Moscow would have used.
And a third case now very much on public view are the differences among candidates on the Just Russia-For Truth Party list with regard to mandatory vaccinations against the pandemic. The party is for that, or at least its Moscow leadership is; but there are many people on its lists for regional legislatures who aren’t.
The Kremlin appears to be more aware of this emerging development than some of the leaders of the systemic opposition in Moscow. It has cracked down hard on leaders who might very well have been on the systemic party lists for regional assemblies in Bashkortostan, Sakha and elsewhere.
And the central government crushed a meeting of the Zemtsvo organization of municipal politicians, obviously fearful that such people could constitute a challenge to the regime in the future. (On that action, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/suppression-of-zemtsvo-congress-shows.html.)
Shtepa says that analysts should be paying at least as much attention to these possibilities as the Kremlin is and more than the systemic opposition leaders in Moscow are. And he concurs with a recent suggestion by Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Tatyana Stanovaya that “the real opposition in Russia is regionalizing” (carnegie.ru/commentary/84882).
But because he believes that is the case, Shtepa says that her conclusion that the Russian political system as it has emerged is set to remain unchanged for a long time to come is wrong. What’s happening in the regions and within the systemic parties there shows that there are very real possibilities that unexpected and radical changes may occur sooner than anyone expects.