POL354 Lecture 17 – Federalism Cont’d/Regional & Local Politics
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Film – My Perestroika
Last week a number of criteria for federalism was outlines:
Entrenchment of the powers of the different levels of government in a constitution
A division of powers in the constitution
This division of powers could be asymmetrical as long as there was a general acceptance of this
Must be a recognized, legitimate, independent party that serves as an arbiter of conflicts.
(Constitutional Court). This court must be independent operate outside of the direct influence
of those who appointed it and those who hold asymmetrical positions of power.
These criteria are important because (1) there was a fundamental commitment of the leaders to develop
democracy and (2) the Soviet/Imperial legacy lacked these criteria – the old Russian Empire was not a
Under the Soviet Union there was an apparent separation of power – in theory, because of the monopoly
of power of the Communist party, Federalism did not exist in practice. When Gorbachev comes to power
he initially ignores the issue of federalism, but it soon becomes a serious issue. Attempts to create treaties
to address this results in the coup of August 1991. When Gorbachev returns he finds no centralization –
this leads to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Yelstin calls for new autonomy of the new Russian Federation he wants to set up. Once in control he tries
to re-centralize power. Puts in place a constitution which offers the potential for highly centralized control
by the political leadership of the country over the regions. Under Yelstin, a very weak national leader,
there is virtually chaos and anarchy. On the one hand Yelstin enters into bi-lateral treaties with most of
the regions. One of the regions declares its independence (Chechnyan Civil War)
By the time Putin comes to power, there is complete anarchy at the federal level. There are no
established procedures for a division of power. Very little legitimacy in the constitutional court. The
regional leaders effectively ruled their territories – Yelstin had given up attempting to put in place rules
and procedures that would allow for the establishment of a stable regime.
Putin’s Transformational Vision in the Aftermath of the Yelstin Years:
Articulated through the idea of Power Vertical (Sovereign Democracy.) Russia was going to persue its
own particular path to democracy based on its own traditions and circumstances.
Must be a strong state in the more traditional Russian/Soviet idea – the set of institutions that
provides direction for the development of society as a whole and for
modernization/development of the economy.
That strong state must be entrenched in a particular institution – presidency. This relies on
Russian tradition of executive leadership. Need a core institution through which the vision comes
in order to construct a strong state and give direction to society.
The Russian state must be constructed as a power vertical this idea has permeated his policies
and direction throughout his entire career as both president and prime minister. The idea is that
the presidency stands at the top of a pyramid. Three components:
1. National institutions
2. Region/Territories (89-83)
3. Society Each of the three major components of the country are subordinate to the presidency. The
presidency has an responsibility and a right to ensure that these components are directed by the
presidency and coordinated through his office.
There is no sense of balance between the three components. It is an image in which
subordination and the carrying out of the will of the centre is the primary vision that Putin
provides. This vision is not dissimilar to what Russia was under the Tsars and Communist Party.
Many argue that under Putin there has been a “re-Sovietization” of the political regime – in
terms of the model of power and authority that underlines the way in which the system
operates. All components should be subordinated to the presidency as a means of ensuring
stability and unity in the country.
Dictatorship of Law also referred to as rule by law. Putin argued that the instrument that he
would use in order to achieve his goals of unity and stability would be the law – broadly
structured as the constitution – specifically as federal law.
These principles are valid for understanding Putin’s approach to almost every aspect of his policy.
The Constitutional Framework within which Putin undertakes his regional strategy:
Names the President of the guarantor of the Constitution
Article 77(2) provides backing for his vision of vertical power – Yelstin’s constitution provides
Putin a constitutional frame within which he can base his idea of vertical power.
The President and the government are responsible for ensuring that the laws that are passed on
a federal level are administered, carried out, and complied with throughout the entire country.
The federal government has the power to suspend acts on all levels of the government for
violations of the constitution very clear signal that the presidency has the right/responsibility
to ensure that the laws are carried out.
The president has the decree power. Has the power to use presidential decrees in any area in
which it does not exist. Does not have to go to the legislative assembly in order to under take
Joint powers – Constitutional court has interpreted that to mean that any area of joint
jurisdiction requires initial establishment by the federal government.
Enormous potential powers written into Yelstin’s constitution – which he did not use.
What does Putin do in terms of politics? Presidential decrees. Issues a number of decrees declaring a
wide range of regional laws had violated federal law or presidential decrees.
The bi-lateral treaties:
Putin gives notice that he will allow them to stand, but will not renegotiate any of them and will
not negotiate any new ones.
Very early on (2002) Putin issues a presidential decree administratively dividing Russia into 7 districts.
Each of the 7 districts was roughly defined a long military lines. In each district, Putin appointed a
representative of the president polpred(y), responsible solely to the president, with the task of unifying
legal space in each district and creating a single information space.
The initial round of appointments mostly came from the power institutions of the country. Came with
a very clear background in terms of a very clear understanding in terms of the establishment of
security/order/legal space. There roles essentially were to coordinate the federal civil service, and to
oversee each of the regions in order to ensure compliance from each of the regions to the
constitution/federal laws/presidential decrees. A very important step in the construction of the power
Needed some form of institutional representation of the regions in the centre. This usually takes the form
of a second chamber. How to form this was left up to Putin. Up until Putin’s succession to power, the upper chamber consisted of two delegates from each region . Consequently the direction was very
indirect and very institutional. Putin changed this slightly in order to reduce the influence of the regions in
At the same time, Putin also established a new body called the state council (consists of the 89 governors
of the 89 regions). State served as a substitute for the federation council. Very limited and illusionary
Two dramatic changes:
1. Not a regularly institutionalized body
2. Unlike the federation counsel – the state counsel is a purely advisory party that is easily
disbanded or ignored.
The Power of the Governors:
In all of the regions has been a replication of what occurred at the national level – very strong
regional leaders constructed their own power vertical and had used the 1990s to undertake their
own privatization projects, and in effect rule their territories as tho