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On the Dissolution of Putin’s Vertical Power

The Jamestown Foundation has an excellent article about telling fractures within disparate regions of the Russian Federation. The thesis, put forth by Carnegie Moscow Center scholar Alexei Malashenko, is that some of Russia’s far flung territories are starting to take issue with the Kremlin’s unilateral political appointments, evidence of the “initial stage of a breakup.”

“The first parts to break away, Malashenko believes, will be the Kaliningrad enclave, wedged between Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus and firmly oriented to Europe, and the Far East on the opposite side of this country, firmly locked economically to China, Japan, and South Korea.

“The Kaliningrad region and the Far East have as little in common within the Russian Federation as, say, Estonia and Turkmenistan did in the Soviet Union. No viable economic ties exist between the extremes of this large country. There is nothing like Route 1 from Key West, Florida, to Fort Kent on the Canadian border to link Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. Only centralized control, known as Putin’s vertical of power, has kept Russian regions together like hoops on a cask. As the systemic crisis loosens the hoops, however, the decayed cask will start falling apart.

“On February 9 the Republic of Tuva, which borders Mongolia in EasternSiberia (and of whose existence most Muscovites are only dimly aware),challenged a key element of this power vertical. Under Putin, regionallegislatures just rubber-stamp Moscow’s “recommended” presidents andgovernors (just as Soviet Communist party regional committees “elected”Moscow’s “recommended” first secretaries). The central governmentappoints the key officials of federal agencies in the regions,regardless of local feelings. Tuva now wants Moscow to seek regionalapproval for such appointments.

“Although the legislation initiated by Tuva willmost likely die on the Duma floor, it does reflect the longstandinganger that has been smoldering in the regions as Putin has been turningthe Russian Federation into a unitary state. This anger just broke outin a dangerous way in Dagestan. On February 2 Moscow appointed VladimirRadchenko to head the Dagestan Republican Directorate of the FederalInternal Revenue Service (UFNS).

“On February 3 Radchenko could notenter Dagestan, because a large crowd of protesting Lezgins, Dagestan’sthird-largest ethnic group, would not let him in. The Lezgins have aclaim on the UFNS under an informal delineation of powers in themulti-ethnic republic.

“Only on February 6 was Radchenko ableto make his way into the UFNS headquarters in Makhachkala. He did notstay long, however. Two gunmen broke in, threatened him with guns,grabbed him, and threw him into a car. The kidnappers told Radchenkothat they would kill him if he did not leave Dagestan and then justdumped him in the downtown area.”