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Russia Report: January 8, 2004

8 January 2004, Volume 4, Number 1

THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION VOTES. Get comprehensive analysis and all the breaking news about the Russian elections at RFE/RL's dedicated webpage "Russia Votes 2003-04":
By Gordon Hahn

The transition from nascent democracy to a stealth-like, soft authoritarianism, together with the supposed rise of Russian nationalism, under President Vladimir Putin has received much attention of late. However, the rollback of another set of institutions and, as a consequence, the possible rise of another form of nationalism in Russia has been largely ignored. The current regime has been characterized by the weakening and dismantling of Russia's emerging federalism and other institutional arrangements for containing nationalism/communalism that proved significantly effective under Putin's predecessor, President Boris Yeltsin.

Throughout the 1990s, such mechanisms helped contain communalism -- that is, ethno-national, linguistic, and religious aspirations for self-determination and even secession -- and intercommunal conflict, with the exception of the Chechen wars and the Ingush-Ossetian clashes in 1992. The federal center managed by means of these federative and consensus-building institutions -- however weak they were -- to avoid major intercommunal conflicts in a country with more than 100 nationalities, as well as to limit self-determination aspirations to demands for internal self-administration in 31 of 32 national autonomies (the exception being Chechnya).

Yeltsin's ad hoc "asymmetrical federalism," like somewhat similar although more developed and effective systems in Spain and India, afforded the regions, especially the ethno-national republics, considerable autonomy in their cultural, economic, and political affairs. Yeltsin signed 42 power-sharing treaties with 46 regional governments, most often the national republics, to provide much of this autonomy.

Regional autonomy was backed up with the necessary material and financial base. The federal-regional treaties and attendant agreements gave property, land, and special tax breaks to many regions, especially the national republics. Overall federative fiscal policy maintained an approximate 50-50 balance between revenues kept in Moscow and those distributed to the regions.

Under Yeltsin, the Federation Council more or less performed the function it should in federal democracies -- to represent equally the interests of regions and sometimes communal groups themselves as compensation for the unequal representation of minorities and small, less powerful regions in the lower house. An element of "consociational" or consensus rule (as opposed to majority rule) was deployed through of form of the so-called minority veto. Under Yeltsin any piece of draft federal legislation could be forced into a federal-regional "conciliation procedure" if in more than one-third of Russia's regions, the chief executive or the legislature filed a protest against a draft law going through the federal parliament.

To be sure, some of these arrangements were non-institutionalized or were clear violations of the federal constitution and federal laws, making for an "unofficial" or illegal asymmetry in Russia's federalism. Regional constitutions and laws violated federal norms, even after the Constitutional Court struck down the offending regional norms, and some regions at various times refused to send taxes to Moscow.

The federal government joined in the orgy of unofficial asymmetry, signing federal-regional bilateral treaties that openly violated the Russian Constitution and failing to provide budget-mandated funds to the regions. The federal-regional treaty-making process, while bringing in an element of consensual agreement and negotiation, was neither well institutionalized nor democratic. The federal and regional parliaments played no role in their adoption, and the national populations were completely excluded from the process. Instead of parliamentary approval and a multiple-stage referendum process as occurred in the case of the adoption of Spain's statutes of autonomy, Russia's power-sharing treaties and attendant agreements were purely inter-executive-branch affairs.

This process, as well as the mentioned institutional arrangements, constituted a reasonably acceptable start to federation building in Russia, given the circumstances under which it had to be developed. The various institutions needed to be improved, not destroyed, as they have been under Putin.

Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has undermined every federative and consociational element of the federative system that emerged under Yeltsin. Asymmetry and regional autonomy has been reduced to a minimum by forcing regional constitutions and laws into conformity with their federal counterparts. Centralization has returned with an absurd vengeance: for example, federal law now dictates the size of traffic-violation fees. The federal-regional power-sharing treaties have been devalued by Putin, allowed to expire or encouraged to be abrogated. It is unclear whether regions like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan that forged the power-sharing-treaty process at the core of Russian asymmetry will be allowed to conclude new treaties with Moscow, and if they are, what if any asymmetry and autonomy they will offer.

The Federation Council, initially made up of elected senators and later each region's locally elected chief executive and legislative assembly chairman ex officio under Yeltsin, was reorganized under Putin's system with two appointees from each region, one each selected by the local executive and legislative branches. Remember that under the second Yeltsin-era method of selecting senators, the regional chief executives were popularly elected in their regions, and legislative assembly chairmen were popularly elected as deputies before being elected by the regional assembly as its chairman. Also, Putin has raised the bar for regional veto of draft legislation and reversion to the federal-regional conciliation procedure. Now both branches of one-third of Russia's regions must challenge a draft law to take it off the table and send it into conciliation.

Moreover, other Putin policies have undermined the institutional containment of communalism. The Kremlin has sought -- though sometimes unsuccessfully -- to institute more assimilative cultural, educational, and language policies. There was the Education Ministry's failed effort to introduce a mandatory course on Russian Orthodoxy in Russian elementary schools. There was an effort to ban Tatarstan's plans to convert Tatar from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. There also was an attempt to manipulate the October 2002 census to divide the Tatar nation into several sub-groups.

Finally, amendments to Russia's laws on political parties and elections were reformed in ways that impinged on communal minorities' political rights. Political parties based on minority ethnic, religious, or linguistic groups are forbidden from running candidates in elections. This will not necessarily achieve the integrative goals set out by the administration. The leading Muslim party simply renamed itself and managed to get registered to run in December's State Duma elections, rather than disband or merge or join into a coalition with a more generic party. The ban on such parties is likely to alienate groups like Muslims from the political process.

Such policies, because they impinge on the most basic level of communalist aspirations for autonomy -- those spheres directly related to their national identity -- provoked outrage from Tatars and other nationalities. Pursuing them further against the background of the continued weakening and dismantling of core communalism-containment mechanisms risks a backlash by national minorities and autonomies.

Indeed, over time the decline of democracy and federalism will deinstitutionalize politics, both "secular" and communal, moving conflict resolution from the corridors to the streets. At the same time, the simultaneous rise of Russian and non-Russian nationalism will lead to ethno-politicization, mobilization, counter-mobilization, and ultimately, growing interethnic tensions and conflict. This is a powder keg, the fuse of which a decline in oil prices or some other economic or financial crisis could ignite. Putin is playing with fire.

Gordon Hahn is a William J. Fulbright visiting professor at the School of International Relations at St. Petersburg State University, Russia.

Perhaps the real story of the 7 December State Duma election is not the impressive win of Unified Russia in the party-list competition -- 37.57 percent compared to 12.61 percent for the second-place Communist Party -- but its victory in race after race in Russia's 225 single-mandate districts. The party won an impressive number -- 104 out of 225 districts, or 46 percent. In addition, there were many winners who ran as independents, but who were in fact closely associated with Unified Russia. For example, seven winners who ran as independents were former members of either the Unity and/or Fatherland-All Russia factions in the State Duma. Unified Russia represents the merger of these two parties.

What explains the party's success? One factor frequently cited in the Russian press has been the role of regional governors' political machines. "Ekspert," No. 47, argued that part of Unified Russia's success in the Duma elections can be attributed to an unofficial agreement between the federal center and regional executives under which Moscow allowed governors to win second and third terms in exchange for their support for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. According to the weekly, regions that had governors on Unified Russia's party list showed strong support for the party. In Mordovia -- whose head, Nikolai Merkushkin, is on the party's Supreme Council -- some 76 percent of voters supported Unified Russia.

The table below shows that the formal relationship between the regional executive and Unified Russia did not necessarily result in a clean sweep for the party. Certainly, in those regions whose leaders are also leaders in Unified Russia, like Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, the party did exceedingly well. In the city of Moscow, the party got some 34 percent of the vote but more impressive, it won 12 out of 15 districts. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Luzhkov's political machine was rolled out in full force for the party. Ekho Moskvy reported on 25 November that Moscow city officials were pressuring business owners and their employees to vote "correctly" on 7 December. According to the station, managers at the GUM shopping mall were recently advised to register at a single polling station and vote together -- "for whom it is not hard to guess."

In Bashkortostan, whose leader, President Murtaza Rakhimov, was listed first on Unified Russia's regional party list, Unified Russia candidates won a dazzling 100 percent of the six single-mandate races. This was probably accomplished in part by a special redrawing of election districts in the republic to benefit Unified Russia. Merkator Group analysts Dmitrii Oreshkin and Vladimir Kozlov dubbed this process "Murtaza-ing" in an article published before the election in "Moskovskie novosti," No. 40.

At the same time, some regional executives who appeared on Unified Russia's party list did not deliver the same impressive results in either party-list or single-mandate-district voting, while voters in some regions whose executives did not have explicit ties with the party responded with strong support. For example, in Khabarovsk Krai and Tambov and Astrakhan oblasts, the governors were listed first on their respective regional party lists but Unified Russia did not win in the regions' mandate districts. But in Bryansk, Kursk, and Kirov oblasts, the party won in all districts.

Of course, it's always possible that support for Unified Russia might have been even lower in Khabarovsk Krai and Tambov, and Astrakhan oblasts without their governor's support for Unified Russia. It's also possible that the governor's political machines, while nominally allied with Unified Russia, might in fact be serving a more narrow, or at least different, agenda. In the case of Khabarovsk Krai, the single-mandate winners -- independent candidate Boris Reznik and People's Deputy Vyacheslav Shport -- were candidates that Governor Viktor Ishaev supported. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, few observers question the strength of Governor Eduard Rossel's political resources. However, Rossel, having just secured his own re-election, faced other pressing issues besides ensuring Unified Russia's success at the ballot box -- particularly since his bitter rival, Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, was seeking re-election on 7 December.

More analysis of the many factors that contributed to Unified Russia's victory is necessary, but in the end the best explanation might be a rather simple one. Unified Russia's candidates won because the party supported candidates who were already likely to win. Unified Russia proudly advertises its lack of ideology, so a candidate's beliefs or prior affiliations would not, and did not, serve as a barrier. Regionally based political analysts were almost unanimous in their use of the word pragmatic to describe the party's strategy in the regions. And pragmatism apparently won. (Julie A. Corwin)

The table below lists the 89 federation subjects ranked in order of the percentage of support for Unified Russia (YeR) in the voting according to party lists. The third column lists the number of single-mandates districts captured by Unified Russia nominees.

Name of region_____percent support__ # of _________Regional leader's
__________________for YeR____single-mandate___ranking on party list
_________________in party-list__winners from YeR_______________

Chechnya_______________79.8______0 of 1___________n/a
Kabardino-Balkaria*______77.0_______1 of 1__________2r
Mordovia*______________76.1_______1 of 1__________1r
Tuva__________________66.9_______0 of 1__________n/a
Daghestan*_____________65.9_______0 of 2__________n/a
Tatarstan*______________59.7_______5 of 5__________4n
Agin-Buryatia___________58.1________0 of 1_________n/a
Ingushetia______________57.0________0 of 1_________n/a
Chukotka_______________54.4________0 of 1_________n/a
Kaluga__________________52.4________0 of 2_________n/a
Evenk___________________52.3________1 of 1_________n/a
Kemerovo_______________52.1________3 of 4_________1r
Adygei__________________51.2________1 of 1_________2r
Kalmykia________________50.7________1 of 1_________n/a
Tyumen_________________49.7________0 of 2__________1r
Karachaevo-Cherkessia_____49.6_________1 of 1_________n/a
Koryak__________________47.4_________0 of 1_________n/a
Ulyanovsk______________47.4__________1 of 2_________n/a
North Ossetia___________46.4___________0 of 1_________n/a
Komi-Permyak__________46.3___________0 of 1_________n/a
Taimyr________________46.1____________1 of 1________n/a
Yamalo-Nenets__________45.8___________1 of 1_________n/a
Ust-Ordynskii___________45.4___________0 of 1_________n/a
Penza*__________________45.2__________1 of 2_________n/a
Orel*___________________44.6___________0 of 1_________1r
Saratov*________________44.4__________2 of 4_________n/a
Udmurtia_______________42.2__________2 of 2__________1r
Jewish_________________42.2__________0 of 1_________n/a
Khanty-Mansii___________41.3_________2 of 2__________2r
Murmansk______________39.2_________1 of 1___________1r
Bashkortostan*__________39.0_________6 of 6__________1r
Rostov*________________39.0__________3 of 7__________1r
Vologda_______________38.9__________1 of 2__________1r
Sakha__________________38.9________0 of 1___________2r
Nenets_________________38.8_________1 of 1__________n/a
Leningrad______________38.1_________1 of 3__________1r
Chita__________________38.1__________0 of 2_________n/a
Arkhangelsk____________37.9__________1 of 2_________2r
Karelia_________________37.9________1 of 1__________n/a


Chavashia_______________37.3________1 of 2_________n/a
Smolensk_______________37.3__________2 of 2________2r
Pskov__________________37.2________1 of 1__________n/a
Krasnodar_______________37.1________2 of 8___________1r
Novgorod______________37.1_________0 of 1__________n/a
Yaroslavl_______________35.6__________1 of 2_________1r
Kamchatka_____________35.0__________0 of 1_________n/a
Marii El________________35.0__________1 of 1________n/a
Bryansk_________________34.7_________2 of 2_________n/a
Buryatia_________________34.7_________1 of 1________n/a
Tver____________________34.5_________2 of 2_________n/a
Magadan________________34.4__________1 of 1_________n/a
Khabarovsk_______________34.3_________0 of 2_______1r
Moscow city_____________34.3_________12 of 15_______3n
Kostroma________________34.1_________1 of 1________n/a
Tomsk___________________34.0________1 of 1_________n/a
Sverdlovsk______________33.9_________2 of 7__________1r
Moscow Oblast____________33.8________4 of 11_________1r
Chelyabinsk______________33.8_________1 of 5_________n/a
Belgorod________________33.7_________0 of 2__________2r
Kurgan__________________33.5________0 of 1__________n/a
Ivanovo_________________33.6_________2 of 2________n/a
Komi__________________33.0__________0 of 1________n/a
Irkutsk_________________32.8_________1 of 3___________n/a
Kirov___________________32.8_________2 of 2__________n/a
Omsk___________________32.7_________0 of 3_________n/a
Samara*_________________32.6_________2 of 5_________n/a
Amur*__________________32.3_________0 of 1________n/a
Kaliningrad_____________32.0___________0 of 1_______n/a
Nizhnii Novogorod_______32.0__________2 of 6________1r
Stavropol______________32.0___________1 of 4________n/a
Astrakhan_______________31.7__________0 of 1________1r
Ryazan_________________31.7________2 of 2_________n/a
Perm__________________30.8_________1 of 4__________n/a
Vladimir_______________30.4__________0 of 2_________n/a
Khakassia______________30.4__________0 of 1__________n/a
St. Petersburg___________30.2_________2 of 8_________n/a
Kursk_________________30.1_________2 of 2__________n/a
Sakhalin_______________30.1__________0 of 1_______n/a
Tula__________________30.1__________1 of 3________n/a
Krasnoyarsk____________29.9__________3 of 4_______1r
Altai Krai______________29.6__________1 of 4________n/a
Tambov________________29.0_________0 of 2_______1r
Novosibirsk_____________28.9_________0 of 4_________n/a
Volgograd______________28.9_________2 of 4__________n/a
Lipetsk_________________28.2_________1 of 2__________n/a
Orenburg_______________27.6__________2 of 3__________n/a
Primore_________________27.5_________1 of 3__________n/a
Altai Republic__________26.4___________0 of 1__________n/a
Voronezh______________25.9__________2 of 4__________n/a

* Regions where the Communist Party called a hand recount.
"r" means regional party list
"n" means national party list
n/a means non-applicable

Source:; regional election commission websites; "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 49; "Vedomosti," 9 December 2003

As of 7 January, 10 presidential hopefuls, including the incumbent President Vladimir Putin, were seeking registration for the 14 March election. The first would-be candidate, Soviet-era businessman German Sterligov, was also the first candidate eliminated by the Central Election Commission (TsIK), which on 27 December refused to register a voter group formed to support his candidacy.

Four political parties -- the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), the Party of Life, and the Russian Regions party -- have nominated candidates. The Communists are backing State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov. The LDPR has nominated party-security-service head Oleg Malyshkin. The Party of Life has nominated its leader, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, and Russian Regions has tapped former Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko.

At the same time, nonpartisan voter groups have nominated six candidates, including Putin, Rodina faction leader Sergei Glazev, Union of Rightist Forces co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada, former State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, pharmaceutical tycoon and State Duma Deputy Vladimir Bryntsalov (Unified Russia), and controversial businessman Anzori Aksentev-Kikalishvili.

The six non-party candidates are expected to face great difficulty in completing the requirements for registration since they must gather at least 2 million valid signatures in support of their candidacy by 28 January. Mironov is backed by the Party of Life, but because that party failed to surpass the 5 percent barrier to Duma entry, he will also have to meet the signature requirement. Under election law, candidates from parties that entered the Duma are relieved of the obligation of collecting the signatures.

Gerashchenko was not expecting to have to gather signatures, because Russian Regions entered the Duma as part of the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc. However, the TsIK interpreted matters differently, ruling on 6 January that Gerashchenko must submit the signatures. Gerashchenko, who was elected to the Duma on the bloc's party list, plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Aksentev-Kikalishvili failed in his bid to register as a candidate during the 2000 presidential election, when the process was considerably easier. Aksentev-Kikalishvili was eliminated after the TsIK ruled that too many of the signatures he submitted were invalid, RIA-Novosti reported on 30 December.

Aksentev-Kikalishvili founded the obscure All-Russia Political Party of the People and is the director of the 21st Century Corporation, which has been labeled by some Lithuanian media outlets as a Russian crime group. Aksentev-Kikalishvili has recently been linked with embattled Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2003). According to "Le Monde" on 28 November, Aksentev-Kikalishvili has been banned from entering the United States.

It is therefore a good bet that Aksentev-Kikalishvili's name will not appear on the 14 March ballot. However, some Moscow-based analysts believe that Mironov, despite having to gather 2 million signatures in less than a month, could make it to the ballot, because he can count on the resources of both the Kremlin and of Federation Council. As Nikolai Levichev, chairman of the Party of Life's Executive Committee, explained on 4 January, the party and Mironov do not oppose the president or his policies. But the candidacies of coffin manufacturer Sterligov, pharmaceutical tycoon Bryntsalov, and Rybkin -- whose candidacy is supported by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii -- "threaten to turn the election into a farce," Levichev said. According to him, Mironov's participation will prevent this. (Julie A. Corwin)

IN: Newly elected State Duma deputies chose former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, whose resignation from the cabinet took effect on 29 December, as speaker of the State Duma on 29 December with 352 votes, far more than the 226 needed. Lyubov Sliska and Aleksandr Zhukov, both of the Unified Russia faction, were elected first deputy speakers. Eight deputy speakers were also elected: Georgii Boos, Vyacheslav Volodin, Oleg Morozov, Vladimir Pekhtin, and Artur Chilingarov from Unified Russia; and Valentin Kuptsov from the Communist Party; Dmitrii Rogozin of the Motherland faction; and Vladimir Zhirinovskii of the LDPR.

IN: President Putin on 2 January appointed First Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Rashid NurgAliyev as acting interior minister, replacing Boris Gryzlov, who was elected speaker of the State Duma on 29 December.

OUT: "Politburo" has published its last issue, No. 48, Rodionov Publishing House President Aleksei Volin told Ekho Moskvy radio on 23 December. According to Volin, the weekly was making "a huge loss" and "all market research shows that readers' interest in serious political weeklies is clearly falling."

TRANSFERRED: Seven Federation Council members won election to the State Duma from single-mandate districts in the regions they represent in the upper legislative chamber. These former senators/newly elected deputies are Akhmar Zakaev (Chechnya), Georgii Golikov (Belgorod), Viktor Kolesnikov (Kaluga), Igor Morozov (Ryazan), Vladimir Zhidkikh (Tomsk), Sergei Antufev (Smolensk), and Yevgenii Zayashnikov (Yaroslavl).

IN: Moscow businessman Umar Dzhabrailov will represent the executive branch of Chechnya in the Federation Council, RBK reported on 5 January. Dzhabrailov replaces Akhmar Zakaev, who was elected to the State Duma on 7 December.

IN: Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 6 January named First Deputy Mayor Oleg Tolkachev as his representative to the Federation Council, replacing Boris Nikolskii, RTR reported. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 6 January put the appointment into the context of a series of shifts Luzhkov has made within his team. Neither account provided any details regarding Nikolskii's future.

TRANSFERRED: The Krasnodar Krai legislature officially released Sochi Mayor Leonid Mostov from his post on 6 January so that he could represent that body in the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev appointed Viktor Kolodyazhnyi, head of the city of Armavir, to replace Mostov in Sochi.

OUT: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov dismissed State Fisheries Committee Chairman Aleksandr Moiseev on 25 December, Russian media reported. Moiseev had served in the position less than seven months and is being replaced by his first deputy, Vladimir Burkov.

9-10 January: President Putin will visit Kazakhstan

12 January: A closed session of the court martial of suspended Northern Fleet commander Gennadii Suchkov scheduled

12 January: The Chelyabinsk branch of the Independent Coal Miners Union will hold a protest against the Chelyabinsk Coal Company for allegedly violating the constitution and the Labor Code, according to UralPressInform on 6 January

13-14 January: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to visit Mongolia

15 January: Moscow Municipal Court will hear an appeal for the release from pretrial detention of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii

16 January: Vyborg Municipal Court to begin hearing a case challenging the legality of the September election of Federation Council representative Grigorii Naginskii by the Leningrad Oblast legislature

16 January: State Duma will reach a final decision on allocating committee chairmanships

17 January: Russian Regions to convene party congress

23 January: Some 94,000 polling stations for presidential election to be selected

24 January: The Union of Rightist Forces to hold a party congress

26 January: A jury will begin hearing the case against the accused murderers of slain State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov

28 January: 6 p.m. Moscow time is the deadline for candidates to submit registration documents for the presidential race to the Central Election Commission

7 February: List of registered presidential candidates to be finalized

20 February: Presidential-election ballot papers to be printed

12 February-12 March: Period during which free airtime will be provided to presidential candidates

24 February: Next hearing in the St. Petersburg trial of accused murderers of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova scheduled

27 February: Early voting in presidential election to begin for citizens in remote areas of the Russian Federation

9 March-14 March: Publication of opinion polls about the presidential election banned

14 March: Election for president of the Russian Federation

14 March: Gubernatorial elections in Voronezh, Murmansk, Chita and Arkhangelsk oblasts, Altai and Krasnodar krais, and Koryak Autonomous Okrug

14 March: Republican-level presidential election in Udmurtia

14 March: Repeat State Duma elections in single-mandate districts in Ulyanovsk and Sverdlovsk oblasts and St. Petersburg, where no candidates succeeded in garnering sufficient votes on 7 December

25 March: Date by which prosecutors must either complete their criminal investigation of former Yukos head Khodorkovskii to remain in jail or ask a Moscow court to extend his period of pretrial detention

26 March: Date by which official presidential-election results will be released

30 March: Date by which prosecutors must either complete their criminal investigation of Menatep Chairman Platon Lebed to remain in jail or ask a Moscow court to extend his period of pretrial detention

31 March: Date by which prosecutors must either complete their criminal investigation of St. Petersburg legislator and accused murder conspirator Yurii Shutov or ask a St. Petersburg court to extend his period of pretrial detention

4 April: Second round of federal presidential election to be held, if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in the 14 March first round

19 June: End of State Duma's spring session.