Saturday, August 6, 2022

‘Centralization is a Greater Threat to Russian State than is Federalization,’ Kurilla Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 14 – Those who argue that giving more powers to the regions will lead to the disintegration of Russia have it exactly wrong, Ivan Kurilla says. Unless the regions are given more powers, they will increasingly resent that Moscow is making all the decisions and taking away their resources.

            At present, none of the regions or republics is actively pursuing independence; but eventually, the St. Petersburg University historian says, they will if Moscow continues to take everything away from that. And for that reason, “centralization is a greater threat to the state than is federalization” (

            Kurilla says that at present he doesn’t see any other factor that might lead to the disintegration of Russia. “But that doesn’t mean the country will remain exactly as it is.” There is no federalism in Russia, but for such a large country, there should be, especially as more federalism will not lead to disintegration but help the country stay together and modernize.

            Even if national movements emerge and grow strong, the St. Petersburg historian suggests, they will be fighting for federalization and not secession if there is a real possibility for the former. Only if that is foreclosed by Moscow will they make a different choice.

            In discussions about giving more powers to the regions and republics, he says, one often hears that if leaders at that level get more power, they will simply reproduce at the regional level the authoritarian kind of governance now on view in Moscow. That will likely be true some places but in far from all.

            In his native Volgograd, Kurilla points out, popular activism and informal organizations had the effect of keeping it democratic throughout the 1990s long after other regions watched Moscow retake control and impose an authoritarian rule on them. What Russians have to get used to is that such diversity is not bad but a positive thing.

            A truly federal Russia, he continues, will be “a more vibrant country than one in which everything is subordinate to a single power vertical. Regions will begin to compete with each other, not just Moscow with the regions.” That will make things more lively and more capable of development.

            None of this is going to happen overnight, of course, Kurilla concludes. And it will come into existence in a very different way than federalism elsewhere. Russia has never been a federation, and so it won’t be built from the bottom up as the American variant was. It will be built from the top down, with powers granted or not granted.”

            “In a way, this is itself a problem,” he argues. “But if the country does not extend greater powers to the regions, it will mean that the government will become ever more centralized. And that trend is a path to destruction because “ever more centralization will eventually lead to a situation in which the country will fall apart.”

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