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Russia: Regions Pressure Kremlin Into Policy Shift--An Analysis

  • John Helmer



Moscow, 4 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - When the Orel region cast a 95 percent vote to re-elect Governor Yegor Stroyev (October 26), the Kremlin tried to beat election observers from Parliament to the punch by claiming victory for President Boris Yeltsin.

Stroyev, who is also the powerful Chairman of the Federation Council (upper house), "personifies stability and common sense," said Deputy Victor Sheinis, one of the Duma observers at the Orel poll.

According to Kremlin officials, Stroyev's near-total victory -- surpassing even the margin of victory in Kemerovo by Governor Aman Tuleyev -- could not have been won without Yeltsin's personal backing, or without institutional and media endorsement, plus cash to meet regional budget needs, from the central government.

Although Stroyev and Tuleyev are still viewed as pro-communist by the Russian Communist Party, they are also claimed as Yeltsin supporters by the Kremlin. Sergei Shapovalov, deputy head of the president's territorial department, argues that party loyalties don't count any longer in regional politics. "Let the opposition count as they will," Shapovalov told RFE/RL. "We know that political colors change radically after a person gets elected."

Regional politicians say that, following Yeltsin's recent concessions to the State Duma and to regional treaty negotiators, it is the President who most resembles a chameleon.

In addition to Stroyev, representatives of several multi-region associations are to be included in the monthly "roundtable", which Yeltsin promises will now review the most contentious government policies, before they are sent to parliament. This was just one of the points Yeltsin said he accepted as the price for avoiding last month's no-confidence vote in the Duma. Stroyev is also included in the "council of four," an even more potent consultative body Yeltsin is reviving with Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin and Duma Speaker, Gennady Seleznyov.

Yeltsin has also put emphasis on the revenue-sharing and policy provisions of the treaties -- 37 so far -- which he has signed with regional administrations. These pacts, he asserted in a speech last week, are a "fundamentally new constitutional instrument."

Significantly, presidential officials say, Yeltsin has conceded that the treaties are an alternative source of policy-making power, in which several regional leaders are developing the upper hand. Because of his command of parliament's upper house, Stroyev is one of these leaders. Tuleyev, who controls the vital Kuzbass coalmines, is another. And the governors of the big tax-paying regions, and notably the city of Moscow, are also members of this policy-making elite.

This is also a group that is flatly opposed to the policies of the government's perceived market reformers, First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. Just how big the gap is between them was first signaled six months ago, when, without publicity, the Federation Council passed a resolution endorsing a report prepared by its own analytical department.

The report was entitled "On measures to perfect state regulation of the economy and correct economic reform." It was drafted by Sergei Glazyev. A youthful economist currently working for Stroyev, Glazyev was at one time a reform minister, who turned against the government in 1993, and has been a scathing critic of its policies ever since.

The Glazyev report blames the government's budget-cutting approach for the collapse of investment and the failure of economic recovery. It recommends a totally different budget strategy from the one being pursued by the government.

A poll of upper house members, carried out by a unit of the Russian Academy of Sciences and published last month, suggests that 70 percent or more of the Council deputies agree with Glazyev. When asked in a similar poll two years ago to say if they favour strengthening state regulation of the economy, 16 percent said yes. By mid-1997, more than 70 percent agreed. The survey also notes greater blame directed at federal government policy this year, compared to 1995.

Russian media rarely report on Federation Council debates or votes. They tend to focus on the Duma. But, the survey of Council deputies suggests this can be seriously misleading.

Anton Fedorov, overseer of the Kremlin's appointees in the regions, says the Kremlin has had to replace 60 percent of its presidential representatives this year, because of suspicion their loyalty has been co-opted by the regional power elites.

Last week, Yeltsin described his treaties with the governors as necessary to prevent "a weak rag state in which everyone is out for himself." The view in the Federation Council is that 'everyone for himself' is exactly what the treaties mean.

John Helmer is a Moscow-based journalist, who routinely contributes to RFE/RL.
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