When the state strengthens, the people become enfeebled. (V Rossii, kogda gosudarstvo krepnet, narod chakhnet.)
The strengthening of central authority was at the heart of Putin's reform of federal-regional relations and reflected debates and concerns that had long been aired. As noted, the reassertion of the prerogatives of the state could take either pluralist or compacted forms. It was not clear, however, whether even reconstitution could be contained within the framework of federalism. There were fears that renewed state activism would lead to defederalisation, that is, the erosion of the separation of powers between the central authorities and the regions. The creation of seven federal districts, each headed by a presidential representative (polpred), to establish a presidential 'vertical' of power appeared to undermine regional autonomy. This regional autonomy, however, in the Yeltsin years had often taken undemocratic forms: instead of federalism a type of segmented regionalism had emerged. The lack of accountability of many regional 'barons' allowed the establishment of a variety of authoritarian systems. Although the regional leaders had adopted certain neo-feudal traits, as a collective institution they nevertheless represented one of the most effective constitutional constraints on the powers of the Russian presidency and central state.
In the 1990s the old hyper-centralised Soviet system gave way to the fragmentation of political authority and contesting definitions of sovereignty. 1 Attempts to build federalism from the top-down were countered by the regions which managed, de facto if not yet de jure, to ensure a significant bottom-up devolution of power. 2 Under Yeltsin a complex and unstable balance was drawn between the prerogatives of the centre and the de facto powers of the regions. The tension between central and regional claims concerned not only practical issues of governance and finances, but