The Rise and Fall of Power-Sharing Treaties between Center and Regions in Post-Soviet Russia

By Chuman, Mizuki | Demokratizatsiya, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Rise and Fall of Power-Sharing Treaties between Center and Regions in Post-Soviet Russia


Chuman, Mizuki, Demokratizatsiya


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

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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.

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