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Analysis From Washington: The EU As A Model For Russia's Regions

Washington, 25 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian Foreign Ministry official has suggested that regional policies of the European Union may serve as a useful model for Moscow's management of the foreign ties of the regions and republics that form the Russian Federation.

Valeriy Orlov, deputy director of the ministry's department for relations with the Federation's constituent parts, writes in the current issue of Moscow's "International Affairs," that such a model could help bring some order into what has been the explosive growth in ties between Russia's regions and regions and central governments in other countries.

Moreover, he suggests that model provides the Russian central government with the kind of veto power over the foreign policy actions of the regions, a control he says Moscow needs to ensure that both the central government and regional leaders speak with a common voice and approach all issues in an agreed-upon way.

As Orlov notes, the "degree of latitude" that Russia's constituent parts enjoy in working with foreign countries would have been unthinkable only seven or eight years ago. Eighty-two of the subjects of the Federation now maintain ties with various government entities in 77 countries. Of these, 30 Russian regions and republics are actively involved in developing such ties on an almost daily basis, he said. And ever more of them are making ties not with immediate neighbors but with those farther afield.

The most active regions, Orlov points out, are those on the periphery of the Russian Federation whose geographic location gives them genuine advantages in trade and other kinds of contacts. And together with regions in the interior of the country, regional governments along Russia's borders have signed more than 2,000 agreements with foreign groups of various kinds.

Moscow has had to play catch-up with this situation, Orlov points out. The Foreign Ministry has set up a special Consultative Council for International and External Economic Activities of Federation Components, a body that puts out its own special bulletin. It has opened 26 offices and two branch offices which work directly with 41 regions, and it plans to set up at least 14 more.

And the Russian parliament has become involved, passing legislation that went into effect in 1999 that defined what the subjects of the federation could and could not do. As a result of this law and of the ministry representations in the regions, Orlov reports, the number of violations of federal rules on foreign contacts by the regions fell from more than 100 in 1997 to only 11 in 1999.

But more needs to be done, Orlov contends, both to prevent the regions from violating federal law and national policy and to take advantage of what the regions can offer in promoting Russian foreign policy interests. To that end, he suggests, the European Union's regional policy could serve as a useful model for the elaboration of a new and more comprehensive regional foreign policy plan by the central Russian government.

* First of all, he suggests, the EU's regional policy allows for continuing and tight central control by national governments over all such cross-border accords, even when the regions on either side of the border have long experience in working with one another.

* Second, the EU's approach to regions also encourages cities and subregional territorial units to get involved in this process, a trend that both undercuts some of the regions by allowing their own sub-components to play a role and also increases the opportunities for the central governments to develop international ties.

* And third, Orlov argues, the adoption of such an approach will help to promote a rapprochement between Russia and the European Union or at the very least provide an important new venue for conversations and even negotiations between the two.

But Orlov ends his article on a cautionary note by warning "our regional leaders and members of local government bodies against overoptimistic expectations connected with European regions." Such people, he says, "should hardly expect quick rewards," for while much has been written about European regional cooperation, relatively little has been achieved even there in integrating cross-border regions.

Consequently, Orlov suggests, Russia's far-flung regions -- even if they do draw on the EU model -- may not have as bright a future ahead in foreign affairs as many of them now appear to hope or as some in Moscow quite clearly fear