Moscow's New Angst: Yeltsin Loses Power to Hinterlands
Local chiefs flex muscles, help keep stability
In the Republic of Udmurtia, on the Volga River just west of the Ural Mountains, a Soviet central committee, of sorts, has taken control of all state and local government down to the neighborhood level.Skip to next paragraph
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The state soviet, or legislature, has turned mayoralties and other elected offices into appointed positions - appointed by the soviet, that is - and nationalized municipal property, meaning city property now belongs to the republic.
The Kremlin is suing Udmurtia in the Constitutional Court for what they allege is unconstitutional and illegal behavior.
But the real worry of the federal government in Moscow is that the Udmurtian authorities are taking hold of power that has traditionally belonged in Moscow.
One of the most difficult problems facing Kremlin officials is that they may face many more such cases of regional rebellion in coming months.
Moscow is losing a huge amount of leverage throughout Russia.
After 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin appointed the governors of Russia's territories and provinces, so that they served more or less at his pleasure.
But by the end of this year, nearly every governor will have been elected by popular vote, replacing Yeltsin appointees with independently elected politicians.
The winners not only become the chief executives of their republics, territories, and provinces, but they make up half of the Federation Council, which is the upper chamber of the Russian parliament.
The upshot of these regional elections is not that communists, nationalists, or other ideological foes of Mr. Yeltsin are dominating the results. They are not. Of 18 gubernatorial elections held so far this fall, nine were won by the incumbents. Of the others, three winners were supported by a Yeltsin-backed coalition of centrists and democrats, four by a nationalist-communist coalition, and two by neither.
What's new is the independence of these regional leaders. Some Russian analysts believe the new political battle line is not between communists and reformers, but between Moscow and the regions.
"Several months ago, it was enough for Boris Yeltsin to say a word and bad behavior would stop," says Leonid Smirnyagin, a Kremlin staff expert on regional relations, speaking from the Kremlin point of view.
Inklings of independent action
But with an all-elected Federation Council and regional leadership, he says, "the beginning of next year will be very difficult." Relations with the regions are mostly good now, but "soon governors will realize their real power and become more hostile."
The challenges come from halfway around the world in Vladivostok, where Gov. Yevgeny Nazdratenko has been known to try to negotiate the Russian border with the Chinese on his own authority. And they come from Moscow itself, where Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is leading a protest of eight wealthy regions seeking to keep more of their earnings from passing through the federal treasury to the rest of Russia.
Some Russian republics, such as Tuva on the Mongolian border, make no legal acknowledgment of Russia's federal sovereignty, arguing that federal laws must be approved locally.
For the vast majority of Russia's 89 federal territories, the relationship with Moscow is a profitable proposition.