Staunton, Nov. 7 – There is no question that Vladimir Putin will get his way on the elimination of the title of president for the head of Tatarstan or the abolition of the state council there or in other republics, but the debate over this highlights something the Kremlin leader must be worried about: he can’t count on United Russia deputies outside of Moscow to support him.
Versiya commentator Ruslan Gorevoy notes that some of the most passionate defenders of Kazan’s position were deputies in the republic parliament who were members of the Kremlin’s own United Russia Party, a group that should have been opposed (versia.ru/pochemu-gossoveand t-tatarstana-ne-xochet-pereimenovyvat-prezidenta-v-glavu-respubliki).
In the minds of many in Moscow, United Russia is the party of power and its representatives in governments throughout the country will always back the Kremlin. But that isn’t the case. And the party’s lack of a clearly articulated ideology and its lack of the control mechanisms the CPSU has means that deputies behave more independently.
In republics or regions where they see their future as linked to the heads of those federal subjects rather than Moscow, they go along with them. Only if they believe that Moscow is the only source of preferment will they remain loyal to it. And the voting in Kazan shows that many United Russia deputies there no longer view Moscow as all powerful.
The current case, Gorevoy suggests, is not critical. Moscow has set things up to win. But what this means is that Putin’s faith that United Russia can play a key role in maintaining his highly centralized power vertical even in some future crisis is likely misplaced and that United Russia could fragment just as quickly as the CPSU did at the end of Soviet times.
And there is another consequence of this: many nationalists or regionalists likely understand this, just as their predecessors did three decades ago, and future challenges to the center could thus emerge most likely not from the regionalists or nationalists alone but from the alliance of one or both with those most analysts are still viewing as committed to Moscow.
Because of these dangers, the Kremlin is likely to tighten the screws on United Russia just as it has reined in other parties. What remains to be seen is whether such tightening will have the effect of reuniting the party or splitting it. As many have forgotten, the USSR fell apart not so much from liberalization but rather from Gorbachev’s belated attempt to reverse it.
What has happened in Kazan with United Russia may be a bellwether of equally fateful changes ahead.
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