Staunton, Jan. 26 – At a time when many believe that everything is changing, one of the most useful tasks an analyst can perform is to consider what hasn’t changed. Irina Busygina has performed precisely such a task regarding the Russian political system. And she argues that neither the pandemic nor the war in Ukraine has changed center-periphery relations there.
In an article for Riddle Russia, the Higher School of Economics political scientist says that the current model of the state’s relations with regions precludes any shift in power from the center to the periphery because “this model serves the interests of Moscow and, what is no less important, the Russian governors” (ridl.io/ru/regiony-i-tsentr-chto-ne-izmenila-vojna/).
Because they are appointed rather than elected, Busygina points out, governors not only lack their own independent legitimacy but have “a personal interest in maintaining the stability of the current regime,” something that is best achieved by ensuring that the president remains overwhelmingly popular.
She argues that “the governors will prefer to support Putin’s popularity even at the expense of their own,” an arrangement that has arisen because of “the painstaking work of the Presidential Administration,” the absence of horizontal ties among the governors, and the awareness among the governors that they risk political suicide if they vary from this.
Both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have created new challenges that the current system is not nearly as well equipped to respond to as a genuinely federal one would, Busygina continues; but in neither case has this arrangement changed: the center sets the agenda and the governors carry it out.
Putin thus has no incentive to decentralize and in fact recognizes that any step in that direction would be dangerous for himself. There are conditions under which that could change, but “so far” and despite the predictions of many “they have not arisen.” As of now, governors have no alternative to complete loyalty to Putin and Moscow if they want to survive politically.”
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