Staunton, Nov. 5 – Since the pandemic began, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that the governments of the regions are responsible for responding to it, apparently decentralizing healthcare policy and leading some commentators and analyst to speak of “coronavirus federalism.”
But now Moscow is moving to restore central control over healthcare policy in a way that has attracted little attention but will ensure that the center and not officials in the regions and republics will be making policy in this area. It is doing so by tightening its control over the appointment of ministers for healthcare in the federal subjects.
As called for in a law passed in July of this year, the Russian health ministry has et up a special commission that will pass or reject all nominees to the position of health ministers in the federal subjects (pnp.ru/social/minzdrav-uzhestochil-poryadok-otbora-kandidatov-na-dolzhnosti-ministrov-zdravookhraneniya-v-regionakh.html).
Up to now, regional and republic officials have had the power to appoint people to these positions. The new rules require that Moscow pass on the qualifications of any nominee and determine that the individual is not corrupt; but the real consequence is that Moscow will now control the health ministries at the regional and republic level, not the regions or republics.
And this change, which has so far passed under the radar screen of the Moscow media, means that the Kremlin has now taken steps to ensure that however much it talks about regions playing a key role in fighting the pandemic, it will be the center and not the regions or republics who will determine what happens.
That is especially important for those inclined to blame the governments of the federal subjects for shortcomings in their handling of the pandemic. They must now recognize that in this area as in almost all others, the center calls the tune and so much bear responsibility for problems regardless of where they happen in the country.