political revue


Year XXXY, 1993, Numero 2 - Page 95



Russia is going through a complicated period of transition from its status as the largest republic in the former USSR to that of a politically and economically independent state – from a formal federation of the “socialist type” to an as yet uncertain form of nation-state structure. The process of transformation involves numerous conflicts within the system of state power and administration of Russia, in the economy and in international relations. It requires serious attention and inter-disciplinary study.
In this article, we shall consider the most essential trends in the development of the Russian Federation (RF) as a nation-state, and the key problems. We shall provide a brief analysis of the causes of these problems and offer our vision of the development prospects for Russia.
1. Main trends in the development of Russia as a nation-state after independence (June 1991). Key problems for Russia.
The declaration of sovereignty by the RF and the election of President Boris Yeltsin were the logical continuation of the process of disintegration of the USSR. Although these events also mark the beginning of transformations in Russia itself, they are subject to various interpretations. Today, much effort is expended in predicting the inevitable disintegration of the RF in the wake of the disintegration of the USSR. But what is the actual reality?
In the past, two opposing trends could be observed in the RF: on the one hand, there was a rising wave of separatism in the former national autonomies, a move towards self-determination as new and independent states, as well as a parallel movement for the independence and higher status of the Russian territories (krais, oblasts and their regional subunits); and on the other there was a tendency to consolidate the federal centre of power and an attempt to create a new democratic federation.
The first trend displays itself in different forms, the first of which is the emergence of separatism in the national-state members of the Federation (i.e. former autonomous republics). Initially, these movements in the former autonomies took the form of raising their political and legal status to the level of the former Union republics of the USSR. It later grew into a movement for the sovereignty of the new republics, and, subsequently, for the right to secede from the Russian Federation and to establish relations according to the principle of common international relations. As of today, two formerly autonomous units, i.e. the Republic of Tatarstan and the Chechen Republic (Chechenia) have raised their status to that of independent states and refused to sign the Federal Agreement (April 1992), thus challenging the principle of the territorial integrity of the RF.
The separatism of the other national-state members of the RF is somewhat less evident. Although they signed the Federal Agreement, some of the republics nevertheless declare the supremacy of their own laws over the RF’s Constitution. Such Republics are Yakutia (Sakha), Buryatia, Tuva, Bashkortostan, Komi, Karelia and Kalmykia.
There are eighteen Basic laws operating today within the RF: the All-Russia Constitution of 1977 (with amendments), the Constitutions of Tatarstan and Chechenia and fifteen constitutional drafts ready to be ratified by the parliaments of the Republics which have signed the Federal Agreement. Article 17 of the Chechen Constitution declares the Republic to be an independent state, while Article 61 of the Constitution of Tatarstan describes Tatarstan as a “state associated with Russia”. The drafts of the Constitution of Tuva (Article 8), Karelia (Article 12) and Sakha (Article41) recognize the principle of the supremacy of republican laws over those of Russia as a whole. The same is true of the drafts of the Laws of Kalmykia, Buryatia and Bashkortostan. According to Article 64 of the draft of its Constitution, the Republic of Bashkortostan “reserves the right to leave the Russian Federation”. Frequently the republics revoke acts of the Russian Parliament and pay no heed to the decrees of the RF’s President. This practice has become normal in Chechenia and Tatarstan. Yakutia has independently raised the rate of revenue assignments to its budget from the mining and processing of diamonds (from 27 percent as agreed with the RF to 35-40 percent). North Ossetia and Ingushia refused to comply with the decision to outlaw all unauthorised military units on their respective territories.
In other words, the legal space of Russia has been significantly impaired; in the larger republics parallel power structures are being established and the relevant constitutional grounds are being created to allow secession from Russia. All of this means a serious crisis for the Federation, which is being undermined by its administrative-territorial units (krais, oblasts).
Having no statehood of their own, because the Federal Agreement envisages no federal governments for them, the Russian oblasts and krais have also initiated movements to raise their status and to achieve statehood and self-determination. In the krais and oblasts, “local constitutions” have begun to appear and are meant to serve as the basis for creating a “local legal space”, i.e. the right of local authorities to introduce their own laws to solve regional problems. Such constitutions are officially entitled “State Rules of Oblast” (or krai, as relevant). The first such rules were elaborated in Irkutsk oblast, and were adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the RF (i.e. by the Chamber of Nationalities) as a standard model. The emergence of the first local constitution in this area of Russian Siberia is significant, as the Irkutskaya oblast is wedged between the “independent” RF Republics of Tuva, Buryatia and Yakutia. Judging by the “Rules of Oblast” the most essential differences between the local and federal authorities concern property relations and the use of natural resources.
The separatism of the territories is based on growing economic regionalization begun in Russia, that was spurred by market reforms and expansion of the economic rights of both production units and territories, including foreign economic affairs, privatization of property, and foreign investments. The krais and oblasts account for 82 percent of the mostly Russian population of Russia and for more than 75 percent of Russia’s economic potential. As of today, republican status is claimed by the Krasnodarskii and Stavropolskii krais and by the Rostovskaya oblast (the leading grain-producers in the RF); the city of Ekaterinenburg[1] and Sverdlovskaya oblast (machine-building and metallurgical industries in the Urals, valuable minerals, and the potential of the military industrial complex); Tyumenskay oblast (89 percent of total Russian oil extraction); Krasnoyarskii krai (4 percent of timber floating); Kuzbass (27 percent of coal); Primorye krai in the Far East (37 percent of fish and marine products processing).
Unlike the former autonomies, these powerful regions of Russia do not make use of any nationalist slogans, in the drive to change their status from secondary subjects of the Federation to that of fully-fledged republics. Potentially they could have served as the breeding ground for the rebirth of Great Russian chauvinism.
On the whole, an analysis of intra-Russian separatism shows that the economic and social problems of the individual parts of the Russian state turn into national ones when such a development is advantageous to political forces competing for power. When such a camouflage cannot be used (as in the case of the nationally homogenous Russian krais and oblasts), the slogans to oppose the central (federal) Russian authorities are replaced by others: as the necessity to protect regional markets and natural resources from destruction, to improve the environment, or to resolve social problems by raising the living standards of the local population.
At different levels of the Federation, the tendencies of separatism and legislative autonomization are strong and reflect the emergence of new centres of power in Russia that are opposed to the traditional centre. This process could have been stopped if a unified legal system and a unified power structure were available in this country, but at present they are not. The deepening of these processes is wrought with dangers: the undermining of the territorial integrity of Russia, potential conflicts over borders, conflicting territorial claims, and loss of control over the Federation as an integral economic territory. If the Federation disintegrates, Russians and “Russian speaking peoples”, who have never had an autonomous region of their own in the RF, will become dispersed ethnic minorities.
The consolidation of Russian statehood, through the strengthening of the federal authorities, is at present the weaker trend.
Working in favour of this trend are mainly the legislative efforts of the Supreme Soviet and the Constitutional Commission of the RF. The adoption of the Federal Agreement (in March 1992) helped to save Russia from being divided into numerous independent parts. The Agreement has become a component and an independent section of the working Constitution of the RF, whilst the Russian Federation has acquired the new traits of a constitution and treaty state. The Federal Agreement has introduced a new system of power distribution. The Federation is in charge of major matters – protection of citizens’ rights, defence, foreign policy, space, metrology and standards, major development programmes, juridical guarantees for the common market, federal budget, taxation, monetary issues, common infrastructure (power and transportation systems), with the regions participating in the resolution of all the above listed issues through their representatives in the upper chamber of the federal Parliament. This is the current Soviet of Nationalities, but according to the draft of the New Constitution, it will become the Federal Soviet. As envisaged by the Agreement, the republics of the RF are entitled to full control of their natural resources, to independent foreign economic activity, to general economic freedom, and so on.
The signing of the Federal Agreement has not resulted in the lessening of international tensions. Although the adoption of the Agreement was the only possible compromise, it has not satisfied either the supporters of the unitary state or the separatists. More importantly, the means of bringing the Agreement to its realization are yet to be formulated. In the opinion of many experts, resolving the problems of the federation in conformity with the Agreement, would require the adoption of not less than 100 new legislative acts.
In parallel with efforts to realize the Federal Agreement, the federal power structures in Russia have started preparing the draft of a new Constitution, which might be adopted in 1993 by the Congress of People’s Deputies. The following article concerning the form and principles of the state-territorial structure of Russia has been proposed: “[...] it is based on the principle of federalism, secures the unity of Russian Federation, decentralizes state power and realizes the right of peoples to self-determination”. While the work on the new Constitution and on the juridical mechanism for the realization of the Federal Agreement is being carried on, it is in the constitutional sphere that a complex crisis situation has developed in Russia.
There is no coherence between different but interconnected processes: i.e. between the signing of the Federal Agreement and its incorporation into the present-day Constitution, between the process of adoption of a new Constitution of the RF and the new Constitutions and rules for the members of the Federation. Given such a background the operating laws do not function and separatist trends are growing stronger at different levels.
2. What are the causes of separatism and the possible disintegration of Russia?
The causes are generally familiar, and have been described by many analysts in the media. Among the political, legal, socio-economic and ethno-political causes the following can be described as the most important:
i. The critical decentralization of power, the weakness of the centre and its inability to resolve regional problems. Opposition between the legislative and executive authorities, and between the President and Parliament. Such a situation offers local authorities new opportunities for action and opens the way for a “parade of sovereignties”. The precedent of the fast and free disintegration of the USSR acts as a catalyst in this process.
ii. The absence of any effective legal (constitutional) mechanism to prevent the unlawful decision of local authorities to separate from the RF. It is at present impossible to abrogate any of the legislative acts of the republics (i.e. their own drafts of Constitutions, the outcomes of national referendums, local amendments to Russian laws, decrees of their “own” Presidents etc.) even if they are recognized by the Constitutional Court as being in breach of the Basic Law of the RF or the Federal Agreement. There is no possibility for the use of force to ensure that the regions and republics obey the Russian Constitution.
iii. The shortcomings of the former national state structure of Russia and the imperfection of the Federal Agreement, which consolidated the unequal status of the Federation’s members (87 of them) as well as the “titular” ones and other nations. Having been deprived of their proper share of rights and privileges, the mostly Russian krais (territories) and oblasts (regions), and the former autonomous republics strive to achieve independence and to expand their powers.
iv. The economic and, particularly, the financial crisis. The cash crisis from early 1992 to the mid-summer of 1992. This has stimulated the development of economic regionalism “as relying on its own resources”. There is still hyperinflation in Russia, and goods remain more important than money. With no prospects for the stabilization of the rouble, there is little hope of decreasing the economic regionalism that may develop into separatism. All republics, krais and oblasts make similar demands: a one-channel tax system, higher hard-currency raw material export quotas (oil, gold, diamonds etc.) and lower federal budget assignments. The latest budgetary message from the Russian President has prompted a negative response in the regions, as it established a 67:33 expenditure ratio between the Federal budget and the budgets of the Federation’s members. Such a distribution of financial resources does not provide even for the minimal needs of the regions, and hinders the extension of the reforms to the periphery. All of this indicates the prolongation and deepening of the separatist tendency.
v. Federalism is not popular amongst the vast mass of the population. Non-Russian peoples, in particular, identify federalism with an attempt to restore the empire. The move towards sovereignty becomes a means of ethnic defence against perceived imperialist ambitions.
vi. Errors in the policies of central authorities: confrontation with the republics which have not signed the Federal Agreement, absence of a sustained political dialogue, the lack of flexibility on the part of the Russian delegation in the negotiation process, and the problem of the status of newly independent republics.
On the whole, however, the trends of separatism and regionalism in Russia are not always related to nationalism as such. The more important factors are political, socio-economic and legal as listed above. Nationalism is, however, sometimes raised up as a banner by local ethnocratic leaders in their struggle for power.
3. Possible outline of a future Russia.
In the near future, the deepening of regionalization and the growth of separatism in the former autonomies will continue against the background of general political and economic instability. There are not, however, many realistic candidates for secession from the Federation.
The complete disintegration of the Russian Federation after the disintegration of the Union is out of question, as there is not a single autonomous unit to fulfil the role that Russia played within the USSR. In spite of the fact that the idea of independence also exists in the larger krais and oblasts of Siberia, the Far East, Primorye, Sakhalin oblast, and in the Uralian and Yenisei republics, only geographically peripheral autonomies and krais are potentially able to break away from the RF completely. Even in this case, the idea of self-isolation is destructive, as the experience of “independent” Chechenia shows. For many members of the present day Federation no real sovereignty, supported by economic independence, is yet conceivable without the traditional intra-Russian ties.
The question of an optimum form of state structure will remain open for a long time. We cannot exclude the possibility that some new, as yet unknown form of federation will gradually develop within possibly new borders, quite different from the territorial configuration of present-day Russia. The legal basis of the RF will be developed and changed. It is quite obvious that the Federal Agreement will have to be modified in due course. There may emerge a new agreement between the members of the Federation, which will take existing realities into account. Appropriate changes will also be introduced into the Constitution of the RF.
In the near future we may witness the emergence of some new members of the Federation, i.e. of regional unions from among the unions of krais, oblasts and autonomies similar to already existing ones: the Siberian Agreement, the Great Volga association, the “Confederation of the republics and oblasts of the Volga area and the Urals” which unites Bashkortostan, Marii El, Tatarstan, and Chuvashia. The independent state of the Republic of Tatarstan, in association with Russia, has set a precedent, although it is not clear whether the republic is in Russia or outside it.[2] There is now a formula for a permeable, tolerant sovereignty for the members of the reforming Russian Federation, according to which every one of them will have a broad range of rights in the field of foreign relations with neighbouring independent states of the CIS.
By now supporters of a new (real) federation versus confederation have become quite distinct. According to the former the federal form of nation-state structure is the only one acceptable for a multinational Russia. But they stress that, up to now, we have had no experience of real federalism and the practice of federal principles has been limited. In order to realize the concept of a new federalism, it is necessary (in the opinion of the supporters of such federalism) to fulfil the following thre econditions: 1) to continue decentralisation of power, to transfer many of the political, economic, social and cultural functions from the centre to the periphery, to the local organs of administrative and economic government; 2) to raise the status of krais and oblasts (administrative-territorial units) to that of the republics in the composition of the Federation, and in so doing to ensure the equality of all its members and avoid the faults of the nation-state principle of the Russian Federation; 3) to realize the principle of national-cultural autonomy and to create the conditions necessary for the functioning of the communities of the larger peoples of Russia (Russian, Tatar, Ukrainian etc.). An important feature of this concept is the recognition of the priority of the rights of citizens over that of “ethnoses” and the introduction of a single Russian citizenship and passport.
Supporters of confederation insist that Russia has already come close to confederation in its structure and functioning. Their arguments are as follows: the federal constitutional system is now made up of two levels of interrelated legal norms – the Constitution of the RF and the Federal Agreement; a complex process of transition from a constitutional system to a system based both on the constitution and bilateral agreements between the centre and the regions is going on. The federative system is being loosened and transformed into “treaty relations” including bilateral relations between sovereign bodies. The state-forming role of the Federal Agreement (March 1992) is negated on the grounds that its function is limited to the differentiation of rights, and delegating appropriate powers. Since there is no single generally recognized constitution and no treaty on the formation of a single state, i.e. of the Russian Federation, it seems justifiable to interpret the on-going changes in the national-state system as directed towards confederation.
During the Parliamentary hearings of February 22nd, 1993, the Chairman of the Commission for the National-State System and International Relations of the Supreme Soviet of the RF, N.P. Medvedev, stated clearly that “we have actually come to a confederation of 21 republics in the composition of Russia.”
The democratic supporters of the state in Russia think the transformation of the Russian Federation into a confederation is inadmissible, while the supporters of a confederative system see such a transformation as an unavoidable stage in the development of Russia. The arguments of economists are very convincing in this respect. They argue that the sphere of authority of the regions must be as broad as possible within the framework of a rigid federative system, or market reforms will not progress any further. The experience of economic relations between Russia and the former Union republics is also significant: their development is directed not towards a single economic union even within the CIS, but towards bilateral, economic treaty relations with the weak participation of some supra-state management structures.
The two opposing approaches to the process of the “renovation of Russia” are reflected in the progress of constitutional reforms. The federalist approach envisages complete conformity of the drafts of the Constitutions of the republics with the Basic Law of the Russian Federation. According to the confederative approach, the republics should not be bound by any obligations to the Constitution in force, but must have the right to elaborate their own approaches and to have them reflected in their own Constitutions. In the opinion of the Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RF Nikolai Ryabov, neither of the approaches should be overly rigid in practice.
The position described above are far from indisputable. We are inclined to think, and this opinion is shared by other experts, that in the coming years the state system of Russia will inevitably be marked by transitional traits, consistent with the profound social and economic changes which characterise Russia today. The main task of the newly emerging state power structures is to eliminate national and social conflicts, and to ensure the creation of a market economy for the stable future statehood of Russia.
As early as the beginning of 1992 Russia entered de facto into the transitional period of reforming her nation-state structure when the Federal Agreement was not signed by two of the Federation’s members, Tatarstan and Chechenia.
The most important feature of the present period is the breach of the juridical integrity of the Russian Federation whilst the central authorities still retain key state functions: foreign policy, state defence, international law, and monetary-credit controls. The economic space of the Federation still retains its relative integrity: there are no customs or currency borders, a single currency is in use, there is no active division of Russian property (between the former Union republics) or of the foreign assets of Russia.
All of this creates conditions for the formation of a new relations between the Federation’s members through a system of treaties, economic agreements, agreements on the division of powers and the voluntary delegation of rights.
In our view, the way to preserve the Russian state is to strengthen authority at the centre, to attain economic stability, to arrange for a permanent negotiation process, and to maintain the economic integration which is conducive to nation-state consolidation. These tasks are not easily carried out.
At the same time the experience of the disintegration of the USSR and the unsuccessful attempts of the former Union republics to become integrated into the world economic system without Russia shows that some form of internal integration is unavoidable. At the level of public opinion, there is however a growing movement towards unification with Russia. In the July 1992 survey in Chechenia, 42.8 percent of the population of Grozny city answered yes to the idea of signing a bilateral agreement “recognizing Chechenia as a free republic in the composition of the RF”. The June 1992 survey conducted by the sociological service of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Tatarstan showed that 64.5 percent of the respondents were in favour of “the sovereignty of the Republic within the composition of the RF”.

* This heading includes interventions which the editorial board believes readers will find interesting, but which not necessarily reflect the board’s views.
[1] According to the Federal Agreement only two cities in the RF enjoy republican status: Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.
[2] The adoption in November 1992 of the Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan, Article 61, which registered a new formula for relations with Russia: “Association on the basis of an agreement about mutual delegation of powers and fields of authority”.



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