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Monday, October 1, 2012

Kremlin Curtailing Federalism and Democracy in Russia

When it looked like Igor Morozov, an insurgent candidate from within the local nomenklatura in Ryazan, Russia might beat the Kremlin-appointed incumbent governor in 2012, the Kremlin summoned Morozov and the next day he announced that he was dropping out of the race. He would be appointed a senator instead. His campaign, he explained, had created the “threat of a split in society.” In actuality, the success of his candidacy was undermining the federal government’s control of the governor races. Federalism, it would seem, is expendable in the Russian empire of regions and republics.

                                                                                                  Igor Morozov, campaigning before the Kremlin intervened.  Kommersant.
Sergei Salnikov, the deputy secretary of United Russia Party in Ryazan, had crossed party lines to back Morozov. He pointed to the cost in terms of democracy—the right of the people to cast votes to decide a competitive election. He liked the effect of the Kremlin’s “managing” of the race in lieu of competition to a rapist of sorts of the people. It’s “as if you have simply been raped,” he said.
To be sure, Putin would not liken his “presidential filter” of candidates to the activities of a rapist. The filter itself contains a structural conflict of interest because a candidate for governor must secure the endorsement of 10 percent of the republic’s lawmakers, who are heavily dependent on the sitting governors. Incumbents can thus see to it that “paper tigers” are put up as the opposing candidate such that no real competition exists.
Moreover, from the stand point of federalism, a conflict of interest exists in the Kremlin’s “filter” for “criminality.” For the Kremlin to filter candidates for a republic-level election renders the “state level” as subordinate to the contours established by the federal government. The result is a trajectory toward political consolidation at the expense of any checks and balances of federalism.
Therefore, democracy is not the only casualty of Putin’s power-grab occasioned ostensibly by political protests. The Russian political elite can ensconce itself at the expense of not only popular sovereignty, but also federalism, which is ideally suited to the inherent diversity among republics in an empire. Soviet tradition dies hard, whereas democracy and federalism are quite fragile in their growth stages. The Arab Spring demonstrates this in regard to democracy, and the E.U. illustrates the difficult growing-pains of federalism in its teenage years.


Ellen Barry, “Not in Script For Kremlin: A RealRace For Governor,” The New York Times, September 28, 2012.