MOSCOW, October 26 (RIA Novosti) - The initiative of President Vladimir Putin, who suggested that governors be appointed by regional parliament upon the recommendation of the president, is "the first step in a rather simple two-step move," says head of the Merkator analytical group Dmitry Oreshkin.

"When the regional elite groups are sufficiently controlled, the presidential administration will take the second, more important, step - change the administrative-territorial structure of Russia," Mr. Oreshkin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Russia inherited from the Soviet Union a situation where the administrative borders of many regions coincide with the borders of ethnic groups, which creates a potential threat of separatism. The expert believes that the essence of the planned review of the administrative borders is to put them apart from ethnic borders. For example, the Caucasus can be turned into an integral North Caucasian Territory.

Ethnic republics will be abolished or eroded. In principle, large countries are replacing the idea of ethnos with the idea of civil rights. This will not take place in Russia soon, since it will take several years to change elite groups. To implement this strategy, Mr. Putin will have to prolong his presidential term. "One way or another, the president will have to amend the constitution in order to keep his levers of power," said the political scientist. "His projects run longer than 2008."

According to Mr. Oreshkin, there are two ways of prolonging his powers. First: by 2008, Russia will be a new country territorially, with a new constitution and a new (or the same) president. "But the scenario where Putin would leave de jure but remain in power de facto, by becoming prime minister and using the resource of the controllable State Duma and federation Council, seems more probable to me," said Mr. Oreshkin. "It would be a less scandalous scenario; it has been analyzed in the presidential administration and widely discussed for quite some time."

As a result, we will have the following model: a tame parliament will appoint [Putin] prime minister and grant additional powers (including the power to control regions) to him, while the president will become a figurehead. Mr. Oreshkin believes that "the regional elite groups would vote as ordered." In practice, the federal center would come across growing resistance, anonymous and persisting. The regional elite groups are already rallying resources for creeping resistance, thinks the expert. Competition for seats in legislative assemblies has grown dramatically, "because each mandate there can be effectively used in political bargaining."

Speaking about possible liquidation of mayoral election, Mr. Oreshkin stressed that this runs counter to the constitutional principles of the Russian Federation, which say that municipal governments shall not be part of the executive power of the state. There can be two explanations for the idea. The first is that this is a kind of "severance payment" for the regional heads: "In payment for the curtailment of their rights, governors will have the ability to appoint mayors."

The second explanation is that the authorities need someone who would take care of the interests of the vertical structure of power in his/her territory. "This would mark a return to the Soviet system, with secretaries of the Communist Party Central Committee, regional and city party committees; nobody ever thought that they depended on the public in any way. The center believes today that the mayor is the lowest level in the power pyramid," said Mr. Oreshkin.

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