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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Putin’s State Council Another Nail in the Coffin of Russian Federalism, Sidorov Says


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Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 2 – Some thought that the inclusion of the heads of federal subjects in the State Council as Vladimir Putin suggested almost a year ago would lead to the strengthening of federalism in Russia, but in fact, the legal theory underlying the State Council represents the legal death knell of the federal system, Kharun Sidorov says.

            It throws the Russian Federation back to the situation the Russian Empire was in after the Speransky reforms established a State Council for the tsar two centuries ago, one in which all officials were simply representatives of the autocrat and had no independent status, the Russian commentator says (idelreal.org/a/30971821.html).

            Although the recently passed legislation creating the State Council is silent on many issues, it is clear on the legal theory underlying it, Sidorov continues. It is based on the principle of having “a single system of public power.” Many have seen this as eliminating a special status for municipalities, but it eliminates that of republics and regions as well.

            What that means is that “before us is the completed power vertical, which has existed de facto for a long time but was given legal form only in 2020 as a result of the Putin amendments to the Constitution and the adoption of the law on the State Council,” both of which have been approved in rubber stamp fashion by the Constitutional Court.

            Such “’a common legal space’” means, Sidorov says, reinforces the idea of “unity and indivisibility” of the population and of its political space, the Russian Federation as a whole. “The multi-national status of the people of Russia” has thus been reduced to something purely “declarative.”

            “In the process of forming the post-Soviet Russian statehood, many republics within the Russian Federation proclaimed their sovereignty” on the basis of their right of national self-determination; and these declarations were recognized explicitly in the 1992 Federative treaty and in the 1993 Russian Constitution, even if they were not respected.

            But “from the new formulations, we see that Moscow understand ‘the multi-national people of Russia’ not as a combination of nation states but in essence as a single nation of a unitary state and for it ‘multi-nationality’ is a synonym for poly-ethnicity which has been stripped of any political content.”

            This attitude reflects the fact that the inclusion of governors in the State Council does not increase federalism but eliminates yet another aspect of it. Most governors are now appointed by Moscow and those that are not are harassed or criminally charged so as to prevent them from representing their regions. And being in the State Council won’t change that.

            As a result, Sidorov continues, “the State Council in its current configuration is needed not so the regions or even more local self-administration can form the policies of the federative state but on the contrary so that ‘the center’ which already for a long time has been at the head of a unitary state will find it easier to control  them.”

            What Putin has thus done is what Mikhail Speransky did in 1810 when he created a State Council for Alexander I, putting in place an institution that would make it easier for the autocrat to control the entire country and signal that no local arrangements were to have any standing unless the tsar personally agreed to them.

            Just over two centuries on, Sidorov concludes, Russia has come full circle, employing what looks like a representative body to deny the component parts of the country any representative or self-standing. 

Window on Eurasia — New Series