Staunton, August 5 – Over the last month, the Kremlin’s decision not to extend the power-sharing agreement with Tatarstan has sparked a great deal of discussion even though that accord immediately affects only a single federal subject. Indeed, it has generally been treated as Moscow’s final step toward doing away with federal arrangements set up in the 1990s.
But in fact, Vladimir Putin’s decision on Tatarstan as important as it is – for a useful discussion, see intersectionproject.eu/ru/article/politics/otgoloski-mertvoy-federacii -- may be less fateful for the future of federal relations than two other moves this past week that could kill the last vestiges of federalism in the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, the Russian government is preparing legislation that will give Moscow “universal bases” for unilaterally stripping the authority of any region, a move that would leave the federal subjects not only as the creation of the federal center but also as complete dependencies on the whims of the center.
And on the other, Moscow is moving toward a system in which the heads of federal subjects would become little more than governors general whom the center would appoint and give military ranks and who would become cogs in the military machine of the state rather than officials elected by the population as the Russian Constitution requires.
On Friday, the Russian government announced that it has sent to the Duma a draft law that would establish “universal bases” for taking away from the regions and republics powers delegated to them by Moscow (government.ru/activities/selection/301/28713/ and kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59841D1ABB488).
As summarized by the Kasparov.ru portal, the draft law would “make possible the seizure of authority” from the regions by Moscow “if on the territory of the region, the federal organs are realizing the very same by content authority that the regional authorities of executive power are” and if this would allow the government to save money.
The measure also allows Moscow to take over if it decides this is necessary “for the achievement of measures of the defense of the country and the security of the state” and also for ‘international and all-national measures” or if natural disasters or some other emergency situation arises in a particular region.
Thus, the proposed law which given that it is backed by the government almost certainly will be approved will provide a legal framework for Moscow to take powers away from the regions any time it wants, thus legalizing what in fact has been happening under Putin and making it likely that Moscow will make even more moves in that direction.
The second development concerns a new law which makes changes in the Russia’s law “On defense” that Vladimir Putin signed ten days ago. As Nezavisimaya gazeta pointed out on Friday, these changes are “only the visible part of an enormous iceberg almost completely concealed from the curious eyes of both enemies and friends” (nvo.ng.ru/realty/2017-08-04/2_959_red.html).
The newly approved amendments formally make the heads of regions more responsible for national defense, something the center has been talking about since 2015; but in fact, the paper suggests, they are another step toward the integration of the governors into the defense machine of the state and reducing them to its cogs.
That is because the measures not only allow the center to control them by monitoring their activities in terms of national defense but also open the way for them to be given military ranks and thus becoming as it were Moscow’s “governors general” in the regions subject to military discipline rather than the at least nominally elected representatives of the people.