Abstract: This paper analyzes the transformation of center-regional relationships in post-Soviet Russia, focusing on the division of powers and power-sharing treaties. Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, the Russian government implemented federal reforms that included the abolishment of bilateral treaties. Examining this process, I explain why regional authorities agreed to renounce the treaties and how center-regional relationships have changed in Russia.
Keywords: Center-regional relationships, federal reform, power-sharing treaty, Russian regions
During his presidency, Vladimir Putin routinely stressed the necessity of reforming center-regional relationships in Russia. One of the most important steps to this end was a series of bilateral treaties signed by Moscow and several regions (1) between 1994 and 1998 in order to provide for the division of power between Moscow and each region. There are various views on these treaties. In giving the regions more power, the Kremlin succeeded in restraining regional separatism and maintaining the territorial unity of Russia. At the same time, the treaties also had negative impact on the country. Throughout the process of bilateral treaties, the legal and economic unity and the vertical political structure within Russia had become weakened. As a result, Russian federalism became increasingly asymmetrical. (2) In addition, analysts and researchers on Russian politics argued that those relationships characterized a weak Kremlin and strong regions. (3) In reality, the situation was not so simple.
In much of the literature on federal reform during Putin's early presidency, (4) the administration's policies and methods of federal reform were criticized as authoritarian or anti-democratic. But the idea of abolishing bilateral treaties wasn't a policy initiated by Putin and his administration; before his presidency, in fact, some federal politicians and regional leaders insisted on the necessity of abolishing these treaties. (5) Furthermore, some regional leaders welcomed this idea during the Putin era. Before Putin's presidency, it had already been argued by voices in Moscow and the regions that Russia was in need of federal reform. For example, Yevgeny Primakov--who became prime minister in 1998 in the wake of Russia's widespread financial crisis--made a speech on January 26, 1999 that addressed the problems of Russian federalism and the need for reform, including the promotion of bilateral treaties. (6) In addition, the heads-of-state and governors of other Russian regions agreed on the necessity of reform and the division of powers; many of them had already been interested in reforming center-regional relationships before Putin's presidency. Therefore, it is essential to reexamine center-regional relationships and Russian power-division from multiple perspectives.
Firstly, in reanalyzing the bilateral treaty process of the Boris Yeltsin era, (7) this paper aims to clarify the content of these treaties and discuss the role that they played in the relationships between Moscow and the regions. Secondly, the paper will discuss the enactment of the new federal law on center-regional power divisions. Both federal and regional governments saw the necessity of a united judicial framework; under President Putin, these reforms began to be implemented. This paper will examine the political process of abolishing these treaties, explain why regional authorities agreed to renounce the treaties, and describe how the relationships between Moscow and the regional authorities have changed in Russia.
Bilateral Power-Sharing Treaties Between Center and Regions During the Yeltsin Era
Division of Power in the New Russia
Upon his rise to power in June 1991, Boris Yeltsin was faced with myriad problems--economic reform and confrontations with the Parliament being chief among them. Yeltsin compromised with the regions in an attempt to garner support from them. Though within Russia, regional separatism remained in the country as a residual Soviet-era phenomenon, these separatist movements did not necessarily aim for independence from Russia; expansion of power within the territories was among their central goals) On March 31, 1992, the government at first set forth the Treaty on the Division of Matters of Jurisdiction and Power Between Federal Bodies of Executive Power and Bodies of Executive Power of the Subjects of the Russian Federation, (9) giving the republics priority as "sovereign governments" with greater power than "un-republic" regions--oblasts, krais, autonomous okrugs, autonomous oblasts--in order to distribute each power between the center and the regions. On December 12, 1993, the new federal Constitution came into effect, stipulating that all constituencies of the Russian Federation had equal rights in their relationships with the central government. (10) The provision of the Constitution excluded the priority of republics in the division of power. On the other hand, it held onto the provisions that distinguish republics from other types of regions--for example, republics have their own constitutions (11) and national language. (12) It was becoming clear that Russian center-regional relationships were to be very complicated.
It was the advent of power-sharing treaties that made such relationships even more complex. From 1994 to 1998, the central government set forth 42 treaties with 46 regions in order to eliminate various dissatisfactions being expressed by the regions. (13) Moscow succeeded in offering the regions a sense of membership in the Russian Federation by pushing for bilateral treaties and allowing the regions more autonomy. On the other hand, the center wielded such treaties as a political instrument, and set a precedent for individual relationships between center and region. It is possible to analyze these bilateral treaties from both a positive and negative standpoint; the following section will discuss other aspects of the treaties as approached from the regional stance.
The Early Stage of Power-Sharing Treaties
The first region with which Russia drew up a power-sharing treaty was the Republic of Tatarstan, where during the tenure of President Mintimer Shaimiev separatism had grown steadily since the Soviet era. (14) From 1994 to 1995, in addition to Tatarstan, six republics--some of which were also strongly separatist--also became involved in treaties with Russia. These six treaties were different from the other treaties that the center made with the regions after 1996--constitutionally-affirmed joint jurisdiction was changed to regional jurisdiction, political structure was established within the republics, participation in international relationships was fostered, and formation of a republic budget was promoted. In the case of regional jurisdiction, regional governments were able to enact their own legal norms; if there were contradictions between federal law and a regional norm, the regional norm was seen as valid. (15) When the regions enacted their own norms on the matters of joint jurisdiction, they had to work within the framework of federal law. Moreover, some powers of the central jurisdiction were transferred to joint jurisdiction. For example, the issue of citizenship lay within joint jurisdiction in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, as did the banking business in Kabardino-Barkalia and North Ossetia.
Matthew Crosston has analyzed ten power-sharing treaties in five republics and five regions and has paid attention to the problem of citizenship, which was under central jurisdiction per the constitution but was under joint jurisdiction in the treaties. Crosston criticized the point of view that the requirement for citizenship by Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and North Ossetia revealed a tendency toward regional separatism. He argued that these republics required the matter of citizenship to be transferred not to regional jurisdiction but to joint jurisdiction. (16)
It is impossible to deny separatism in those republics; it is a fact that some republics claimed expansion of their power. However, most of the power of regional jurisdiction that the republics had gained via the bilateral treaties was social, economic, and fiscal in nature. Only important matters for the republics, such as citizenship, remained under joint jurisdiction. Although it became possible for the republics to make decisions about socioeconomic development within the regional territory, such actions did not necessarily reveal a desire for separatism. These early treaties included the illegal provision against the federal Constitution and federal laws, so it could be said that the republics, in fact, took a firm stance against the center. But the explanation that they required the treaties for sovereignty and independence, however, is not completely accurate.
Power-Sharing Treaties Since 1996
Other 40 center-regional bilateral treaties entered into since 1996 included matters under joint jurisdiction that were not included in Article 72 of the federal Constitution: official personnel matters of the region, the issuance of licenses, budget problems between the center and the regions, the development of agro-industrial complexes, the planning and realization of a federal program, and so on. In terms of the federal program, the regions also take part in planning and realizing it, though Moscow ultimately approves it. Indeed, regions with bilateral treaties were able, for example, to establish their own taxes and fees and to independently take part in international relationships.
Many other provisions of these treaties were consistent with the Constitution and were not aimed at expanding the regions' powers. Article 73 of the Constitution, for instance, states that the regions have all powers except for those that fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of Moscow or under joint jurisdiction; this means that the matters not included in Article 72 should fall under exclusive regional jurisdiction unless the region had not been part of a treaty. If we consider transferring central jurisdiction to joint jurisdiction or increasing regional power as an expansion of power by the regions, bilateral treaties do not increase, but instead decrease, regional power. Rather than spreading the range of power and demonstrating their autonomy, most regions hope to clarify the division of power in regard to socioeconomic development--particularly relating …