Events

Resisting the State: Retrenchment and Reform in Post-Soviet Russia

June 10, 2002 // 12:00am

Kathryn Stoner-Weiss outlined four main points regarding President Vladimir Putin's efforts to centralize power in Russia. Contrary to popular belief, Putin's reforms have not been as successful as originally believed. Stoner-Weiss contended that relations between Russia's central government and outlying regions are not a zero sum game, and while Putin may have strengthened the power of the central government he has not conclusively removed regional authority. She argued that although Putin correctly diagnosed the problem of compliance, his success at taming the regions is not as clear as one might assume.

Over the past two years, Putin successfully organized presidential super districts and introduced laws regarding the removal of regional governors. He was responsible for the reorganization of the federation council, issued several presidential decrees that reversed contradictory non-compliant legislation, and dissolved 24 of the 42 bilateral treaties between Moscow and various regions. Although these reforms appear substantial on the surface, their overall effect on re-centralizing control remains unclear.

It is important to examine the factors to which Putin was responding when he introduced his re-centralizing reforms. Moscow's attempt to use bilateral treaties, many of which were unconstitutional, to create more transparency in center-periphery relations only created more confusion. Throughout the 1990s, Russian internal policy coherence was under threat from regional laws that contradicted the national constitution. Unconstitutional regional laws limiting labor mobility, restructuring judiciary authority, and maintaining immigration quotas were common throughout Russia. Some regions passed laws establishing ownership of natural resources while others introduced restrictions regarding the organization of federal institutions and agencies located within their regions. These violations significantly effected regional economic development and limited the central government's ability to regulate markets.

In order to better understand the power balance between the central government and the periphery, Stoner-Weiss conducted a series of interviews with federal officials in various regions. The survey questions measured responses about specific job responsibilities and political influence as well as the type of factors that influence policy implementation. Data from the survey showed that federal officials were influenced and assisted as much, and in some cases more, by regional political actors than by federal superiors in Moscow. Survey results suggested that policy-making and policy implementation were heavily influenced by regional political interests rather than by financial or bureaucratic tools of federal agencies.

Stoner-Weiss concluded that groups with regional socio-economic interests continue to restrict Putin's success at creating a unified political and economic space in Russia. She stated that it is difficult to tell if regional non-compliance has truly decreased or if reports of it just don't appear in the media anymore. Putin's strategy of removing contentious regional officials has had limited success, and many of the remaining 18 bilateral treaties are with the most non-compliant regions. Many questions remain regarding the effectiveness of the newly reorganized federation council, and the staffs of Putin's "super" districts appear overmatched against regional bureaucracies.

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