Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Russian Center-Periphery Relations from Khrushchev to Putin, 1957-2018

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Russian Center-Periphery Relations from Khrushchev to Putin, 1957-2018

Article excerpt

Through their priorities and choices, national leaders affected long-term trends of political dominance in the Russian Republic of the Soviet Union through 1990 and have likewise done so in the Russian Federation since 1991. One political determination that they all have made is who governs the Russian regions. This article takes a comparative approach, focusing on the leaders who governed the current 83 Russian regions from the political ascendancy of Nikita Khrushchev as Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) First Secretary in 1957 until the re-election of Vladimir Putin as Russian President in 2018. (1) All in all, 791 individuals led these regions in that period: 420 in the Soviet era through 1990 and 371 in the Russian era through the first three months of 2018.

Regions are the core political institutions in Russian center-periphery relations. I hypothesize that their autonomy, however modest, has varied with the locals who have led them. Regional autonomy connotes greater permissiveness on the part of the center in terms of allowing regions to make political decisions in light of local conditions, concerns, and factors. This relative autonomy is correlated with the total number of local leaders and the cumulative years for which they have governed from the Soviet to the Russian eras. Using these two criteria, 1 measure and compare regions from the last 34 years of the Soviet era (1957-1990) through the first 28 years of the Russian era (1991-2018).

The article classifies as either local or outsider the regional leaders termed Communist Party regional committee (obkom) first secretaries (1957-1990) and governors (1991-2018) across Russia. (2) The classification of regional leaders as locals or outsiders over these 62 years is based on their biographies: Local regional leaders are classified as those who were born and lived in their region for the first decades of their lives or who spent a minimum of a decade at lower-level positions in their region before acceding to its leadership. This method allows for an objective approach to assessing the broad trends of center-periphery relations in Russia over the past 62 years. (3)

Soviet Origins

The origins and earlier careers of regional leaders--that is, whether they are locals or outsiders, to use my terminology--have always had a political effect on center-periphery relations in Russia. In the Soviet era, regional leaders who failed to conform to the precise nuanced intents of the center's policies were denounced for the Communist sin of "regionalism" (mestnichestvo): they were implicitly accused of being more loyal to regional interests than to those of the center. Over the course of decades, the leaderships of the Soviet Union's sub-national governments were almost routinely castigated for their inevitable non-compliance with the contradictory policies and impossible directives issued as ideological dictums by the center. (4)

Reciprocal patron-client networks of national leaders and their regional followers emerged under Stalin in the 1920s and remained the underlying power structure of the Soviet Union until its demise in 1991. (5) Promoting and defending their regional bases was central to the success of contending Politburo factions, which became the outlet for center-periphery relations in the Soviet era. (6) Relative regional autonomy was most apparent under General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev between 1965 and 1982. Those promoted from Brezhnev's native region, Dnepropetrovsk, to national leadership backed him up, personifying the interdependence of relative regional autonomy and central authority in that era. (7) Also under Brezhnev, relative autonomy in reverse resulted from the continuity in Russian sub-national governments of many obkom First Secretaries retained over two decades and supported by their fellow local regional bureau members. (8) Fifty-three percent of the 137 first secretaries in the Russian Republic of 1965-82 were locals, and most of the other outsiders were holdovers appointed before 1965. …

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