Debate - Opinion in English, Russia and Baltic States
Debate - Opinion in English
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Regional Bosses Give Initial O.K. To Putin Move ST PETERSBURG, May 16, 2000 -- (Reuters <http://www.reuters.com>) Russia's regional bosses broadly welcomed on Monday President Vladimir Putin's bid to reorganize local structures, but analysts said that could change if their powers and authority came under threat. Putin's plan, approved by a weekend decree, appoints Kremlin representatives to seven new, large administrative areas with a mandate to oversee the activity of 89 regions spread throughout the world's largest country. The representatives' powers have yet to be spelled out, though one member of parliament suggested these could include sacking uncooperative regional leaders. For the moment, the decree has left untouched Russia's elected regional governors, who in nine years of post-Soviet rule have carved out power bases locally and in the upper house of parliament. The decree followed Putin's suspension last week of legislation passed by regions deemed to be in contradiction with Russian federal law - including Ingushetia, next to separatist Chechnya, Bashkortostan in central Russia and the Amur region next to the Chinese border. "I am very pleased with the decree," Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, loosely allied with Putin after opposing him in last year's parliamentary election, told NTV television. "It is very important to provide these officials with serious powers and keep governors' problems to a minimum in dealing with the government." Vladimir Yakovlev, re-elected governor of St Petersburg, Russia's second city, on Sunday, said he had spoken to Putin about the move and concluded that local and federal bodies could work together. Also in agreement was Mintimer Shaimiyev, head of Tatarstan, an oil-rich central Russian region which enjoys broad autonomy. "I do not see anything wrong in this and am not inclined to dramatize the situation," he told Interfax news agency. GOVERNORS COULD STILL TURN AGAINST CHANGES But Sergei Isayev, director of St Petersburg's Sociology Research Center, said governors could turn against major change. "The reason governors have gone along with Putin's changes is because it is so far a mere piece of paper with little obvious effect on them," Isayev said by telephone. "The minute they see their powers threatened the reaction will probably be quite different. The regional leaders have already proved they can put up considerable resistance," he said, referring to the chamber's repeated refusal last year to bow to Kremlin demands to sack the country's prosecutor general. There were some dissenting voices among regional heads. The president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, who had one of his region's laws struck down last week, was quoted as saying the decree was only a first step to major changes. He echoed comments in some Russian media in recent weeks that the Kremlin's overall plan could involve changes to the constitution and, ultimately, the dispatch to the regions of "governor-generals" appointed by Moscow. Kremlin sources, quoted by Interfax, said the current measure sought merely to improve communication and raise the quality of officials representing Moscow's interests. KREMLIN TALKS ON FURTHER CHANGES Other sources said the Kremlin was holding talks with governors and political parties on changing the composition of the Federation Council upper house, where governors are now given an automatic seat. That would take serious aim at the privileges of governors, who see the chamber as a power base. For Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment think tank, the provisions were sufficient to show that Putin's previously vague intentions on power and politics had now become clear. "He is not a mystery any more. He has come to the Kremlin as a stabilizer and centralizes," she told a conference in Moscow. "He wants to make executive power the supreme power, he wants to reassert Moscow's control over regions. He has a chance to curb the arrogance of regional barons." The Moscow daily Vedomosti said governors viewed Putin's decree as a "trial balloon". It predicted the president would alter the Federation Council and abandon the practice of agreeing with governors on appointing federal officials in the regions. "This will leave the governors with no illusions. Moscow will have created a parallel power structure strictly accountable to the center of authority," it said. "And as everyone knows, when you have two currencies running alongside each other it is always the weaker one that gives way
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