Friday, December 9, 2016

For the First Time, Putin Didn’t Mention Federalism in His Address to the Federal Assembly

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 9 – The first reactions by Russian writers to Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly this year focused on what he did say; now, commentators and analysts are focusing on the equally or perhaps even more significant meaning of what he did not mention or discuss.

            For the first time in his 13 addresses to the Federal Assembly, Eduard Urazayev of the Kavkazskaya politika portal notes, the Kremlin leader made no mention at all of federalism and local administration and talked about the regions only in terms of their responsibility for obeying Moscow (

                In Putin’s addresses during his first two terms, the North Caucasus commentator says, “the theme of centralization or decentralization of power and the taking into account of the specific features of the regions was if not in the center of attention, nonetheless a focal point. There was even the slogan ‘strong regions – strong Russia.’”

            But beginning with his third term, the situation changed dramatically. In 2012, for example, he talked only about the federal districts which he had created earlier. This change “can be explained by the strengthening of the vertical of executive power,” by the rise of United Russia, and by the creation of federal supervisory organs in the regions.

            Even given that, however, “it is difficult to imagine that there is no need to take up regional policy” given the conclusions of various experts and the diverse situation which exists in the federal subjects, Urazayev says who acknowledges that he was all in favor of Moscow assuming more control over the regions initially given the problems of the 1990s.

            And during the first seven years of Putin’s rule, federal intervention did work wonders and created “a definite balance of forces which when needed could be corrected via the Presidential Administration, the territorial organs of the federal ministries and administrations and also major companies.”

            “However,” the North Caucasus observer continues, “beginning with 2008, under the impact of the world financial and economic crisis and the conflict with Georgia over South Osetia, and also continuing terrorist activity, the centralization of power began to intensify” and the consequences were not good.

            In ever more cases, he says, “the principle that ‘the vassal of my vassal is my vassal’ operated.” And with the events in Crimea and Ukraine beginning in 2014, the system of state administration was transformed into a still more centralized bureaucratic system” in which the previous equilibrium of forces was destroyed.

            As a result, the old principle about vassal relationships changed. “Ever more the principle became ‘the vassal of my vassal is not my vassal,” given that Moscow showed ever less interest in what was happening below the level of the regional and republic heads as long as they turned out the vote for United Russia and kept things quiet.

            In this new situation, Moscow “does not pay attention to the large number of complaints or the scandalous cases of violations of the law by the heads of republics or to the false statistics they are reporting, not to the low ratings of the effective use of finances” or to many other issues that the center should be concerned about.

             As a result, Urazayev argues, “regional policy is ineffective” especially concerning cadres. Things might have been different if the whole country were mobilized but that has not happened, and “now the country stands before a serious challenge in the form of departure from government and municipal service of qualified cadres … and falling trust” from business and civil society.”

            As even pro-government experts recognize, current regional policy is promoting not the unity of the country but rather its division into successes and failures. Promoting patriotism isn’t enough if there isn’t a serious regional policy to back it up.  In short, “a new regional policy” is needed, one based on the Constitution.

            Only by gradual decentralization of power in all areas, including taxation, by greater competition in order to produce better cadres, and by the increased involvement of the federal authorities to ensure that Russian laws are enforced throughout the country can the country hope to move forward, he says.

            Indeed, unless these things are done, Russia will not be able to “reduce the negative consequences of centralization, unification and unfortunately neo-feudalization.”

Putin’s Geopolitical Moves Making Mass Protests and Even Revolution More Likely, Solovey Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 9 – In his new book, “Revolyution! The Bases of Revolutionary Struggle in the Current Era,” MGIMO scholar Valery Solovey analyzes the various “color” revolutions in the post-Soviet space and the failure of what he describes as a revolution of that type in Russia in 2011-2012.

            In an interview with “Moskovsky komsomolets” yesterday, the Moscow commentator not only describes in detail why he views the events of that time as a revolution and one that for a time had every chance of success but makes two important points about the prospects for revolutionary change in Russia in the future (

            On the one hand, Solovey argues, “all revolutions in Russia have developed according to the so-called central type: you seize power in the capital and after that the entire country is in your hands. Therefore, what people think at that moment in the provinces does not have any importance. For elections, it does; but for a revolution, no.”

            And on the other, he suggests that “the probability” of a repetition of the events of 2011-2012 is “quite high,” although “not inevitable.”  After those events, “the system did stabilize itself,” and those within the regime recognized that they could survive only by being loyal to the national leader, in this case, Vladimir Putin.

            “At the end of 2013,” the MGIMO scholar continues, “when in the country began to take shape the system of repressive measures, there arose the sense that everything had been fixed in cement and that nothing would be able to break out of or through that.”  But that sense didn’t last very long.

            The reason is that “as typically happens in history, the powers that be themselves provoked a new dynamic which undermined stability: first, Crimea, then the Donbass, and then Syria…”  That didn’t happen because of the Americans or because of the Russian opposition, Solovey insists.

            “By initiating a geopolitical move of such a size, you must take into account that it will inevitably have an impact on the socio-political system. And we see that this system is becoming ever more unstable,” as can be seen in “the increasing nervousness within the Russian elite, in mutual attacks, in the war of compromising materials and in the growth of social tensions.”

            And he concludes: “the turbulence of the system is growing,” something that also reflects the fact that “the revolution which we had in the late 1980s and early 1990s from the point of view of the criteria of historical sociology has not been completed” in that the figures of the ancien regime are still around.

            “You and I,” Solovey tells his interlocutor, “still live in a revolutionary era, and new revolutionary paroxysms are hardly to be excluded.”

Russians Don’t So Much Want to Restore USSR as to Dominate Other Countries, Kravchuk Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 9 – Leonid Kravchuk, the Ukrainian leader who signed the Beloveshchaya accords in 1991, says that in his view, “Russians don’t want the return of the Soviet Union. They want instead to dominate” other countries and to create a structure so that Russia will be in charge and “all will be under Russia” and “fulfill its will rather than their own.

            In an interview yesterday with Ukrinform, the Ukrainian leader says that “this is an idea of the 19th or perhaps the early 20th century. But in the 21st century, the world has changed, people have changed, and they are now sufficiently freed up and free thinking that they won’t permit anyone to carry out such plans” (

                According to Kravchuk, the Kremlin understands this too; but it talks about such things because “part of the people of Russia support precisely such a policy.”

            The Ukrainian leader’s observations call attention to two things many ignore: On the one hand, however much nostalgia Russians may have for Soviet times as a general proposition about their loss of status, few of them really want to go back to the world of the USSR because of what it would mean for them.

            And on the other, however much some of them, including the current occupant of the Kremlin, may want to restore the empire, there are forces in train that will make that difficult if not impossible and self-destructive, something that at least some cooler heads in Moscow now understand.