Little history of Regional Russia
Russia is a country covering a large part of eastern Europe and northern Asia. It became an independent country in December 1991, after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, commonly known as the Soviet Union). The sate-centred hierarchical approach has always been part of the Russian national historical tradition. During the Soviet period, the political system was highly centralised: it prevented regions to establish international agreements and to develop inter-regional networks. During the post-Soviet era, the Russian decentralisation process has been quite complex. The key objective for state survival has been how to balance centripetal and centrifugal forces, territorial and ethno-territorial principles of federalism.
After the collapse of the USSR, Russia was ruled by President Yeltsin. The federal centre was very weak and did not have a clear plan on how to federalise Russia. A Constitution was adopted in 1993, describing Russia as a federal state with different types of constituent units, without mentioning, however, the powers of the regions. By contrast, it outlined the powers of the federal authorities (Art. 71) and the joint jurisdiction of the Federation and the regions (Art. 72). The constitution gives equal power to each of the country’s administrative divisions in the Federal Assembly, (Article 72, Clause 2). Both the legislative and executive branch of each region send a member to the Federation Council, the Upper House of the Russian Federal Assembly.
A strong central government
According to the Russian Constitution, the central government maintains significant authority, even though regional and local governments have been given several powers. The administrative divisions of Russia are: oblasti (regions), minority republics, okruga (autonomous districts), kraya (territories), federal cities (Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sevastopol), and one autonomous oblast . Only republics are recognised as ‘states’ by the Constitution (Art. 5), which has been described as an “asymmetry of the different constituent units”. Local and regional governments exercise authority over municipal property and policing, and can impose regional taxes as well. In the initial years after the passage of the 1993 constitution, they retained considerable powers. The lack of clarity on the centre-regions division of powers and competences triggered a strong resistance from the national republics, which started to adopt their own laws, that often contradicted the federal legislation on several issues.
Regional governments’ tax revenue is not always sufficient to finance their services; for instance, in several cases they have barely been able to cover wages for teachers and police. Large portions of the regional governments’ budgets are needed to cover pensions. Different administrative divisions adopted constitutions that devolved power to local jurisdictions, whose powers vary considerably. Several local authorities, especially in urban centres, exercise significant power and are responsible for taxation and the licensing of businesses. Moscow and St. Petersburg have particularly strong local governments: they both present a tax base and a government structure considerably higher than the country’s other regions.
New reforms once again strengthen centralism: the creation of federal districts
In order to deal with the emerged asymmetric federalism, as well as with the tendencies of disintegration and separatism, the government of President Putin enacted a number of reforms (such as the bringing into line of the regional legislation with the federal one), aimed at strengthening the ‘power vertical’ and creating a more centralised state system. However, the mechanism of centre-regions relations was not significantly modified by these reforms.
Among Putin’s reforms, the creation of seven federal districts (Central, Northwest, Southern, Far East, Siberia, Urals, and Volga) in 2000, which has reduced the powers of local and regional governments. The new federal districts began to replace the 11 traditional economic regions, especially for statistical purposes. Each district is ruled by a presidential envoy, who has the power to implement federal law and to coordinate communications between the president and the regional governors. Through his envoys, the president can enforce his authority over the regional governments. The regional governors were elected until 2004, when new legislation has established that the president has the power to appoint them. According to President Putin, and following the implementation of the Law 131 (On the General Principles of Organising Local Self-Government in the Russian Federation) of 2005, the development of social infrastructure should increase the opportunities and the responsibilities of local authorities. He highlighted that most of this work depends on the presidential plenipotentiary envoys in the federal regions.
The Central district comprises the city of Moscow and all administrative divisions within the Central and Central Black Earth economic regions. The Northwest district encompasses the city of St. Petersburg, as well as all areas in the North and Northwest regions, including Kaliningrad oblast. The Southern district includes portions of the Volga and North Caucasus economic regions, whereas the North Caucasus district comprehends the remaining units of the latter economic region. The Volga district is made up of units of the Volga, Volga-Vyatka and Ural economic regions. The Urals district includes the remaining administrative divisions of the Ural economic region and others from the West Siberia economic region. The Siberia district unites the rest of the West Siberia economic region and the whole East Siberia. Finally, the Far East district overlaps with the Far East economic region.
Russia currently presents nine federal districts. In 2010, North Caucasus, the eighth federal district, was created from the south-eastern part of the Southern district. In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea, and established the ninth federal district there. Ukraine and a large part of the international community did not recognise such territorial claim; in practice, however, Russia exercises a de facto control of the region. The Crimean district includes the federal city of Sevastopol.
by Gianmartino CONTU
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitterand/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.