The Territories of the Russian Federation 2012 (an extract)

The growth of regional autonomy was unconstrained by the centre, owing in part to the absence of unifying institutions across the Russian Federation. Most significant in this regard was the weak development of federation-wide parties in regional politics. During the 1990s only a few governors joined federal parties, the majority following Yeltsin’s lead and eschewing party affiliation or forming personal parties that faded once elections were past. Similarly, federal parties remained poorly represented in regional legislatures. As a result, regional politics came to be dominated by local issues and only weakly registered federal issues. Without a federal party system to hold regional politicians accountable, the central authorities were compelled to bargain with regional leaders to ensure favourable outcomes in federal elections. In the run-up to the 1996 presidential election, Yeltsin toured Russia’s regions, courting the governors with lavish promises of federal funding and bilateral power-sharing treaties.

Yeltsin further pledged to allow gubernatorial elections, which had been promised in 1991 but were repeatedly delayed. In the few regions where gubernatorial elections were permitted, Yeltsin’s appointed governors suffered embarrassing defeats, particularly during the first large round of elections in 1996—97, when nearly two-thirds of incumbent governors were replaced.

The new cohort of governors proved more politically astute than their appointed predecessors: whereas Yeltsin’s appointed governors concentrated power in the hands of the regional executive, the new governors used this power to create regional political machines. In this fashion, the centre’s cultivation of strong governors as a counterweight to regional parliaments KhasaNyurt, Dagestan, that suspended the question of the status of Chechnya within Russia until 2001. The federal government withdrew its forces from the region, which effectively became a state within a state.

While the war with Chechnya became a significant liability for the Kremlin in electoral politics, it had an important effect on central—regional relations. The war—or rather, the war's spectacle and cost—potentially prevented moderate nationalists among the more separatist-minded republics like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan from pursuing secession, thereby providing a deterrent effect in federal relations that placed limits on just how far regionalist politicians were willing to push for autonomy.


By the end of the 199os, regionalism appeared to be unavoidable and entrenched with little prospect of change. Ironically, threats from the regions helped to propel Vladimir Putin to power and spurred the re centralization of power. In August 1999 Islamist fighters from Chechnya attacked neighboring Dagestan with the declared aim of launching a jihad (Islamic holy war) against Russia. Though the attacks were repelled, they revealed the extent to which Chechen politics had radicalized since the Khasavyurt Accords of 1996. This was followed in September 1999 with a series of apartment bombings in Moscow, Dagestan, and Rostov Oblast, which killed nearly 300 people. The attacks were blamed on Chechen terrorists and, as recently appointed premier, capitalized on popular outrage to redploy the military in Chechnya.

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Mis en ligne le 16/03/2014