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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebellion In Regions Threatens Charter

Rebellion among Russia's provinces could derail President Boris Yeltsin's plans for quick adoption of a new constitution, a senior Yeltsin administration official said Friday.


The official, who requested anonymity, spoke less than 24 hours after the powerful Sverdlovsk Region - Yeltsin's home territory - defied the president and proclaimed itself a republic.


The official said that the rebellion of the regions could delay preparation of a final text beyond July 12, when a Constitutional Assembly is scheduled to approve a draft for a new charter that would end Yeltsin's power struggle with the conservative-dominated Russian legislature.


"It looks very bad", the official said, comparing the situation to Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts two years ago to keep the Soviet Union together through a Union Treaty. Those efforts were doomed by the separatist ambitions of the 15 former Soviet republics.


The growing self-assertion of the provinces will be the subject of an emergency meeting Saturday of Yeltsin's legal advisers, the official said.


Sverdlovsk Region, a major industrial center with over 5 million inhabitants, is far larger and economically more powerful than some of Russia's 21 ethnically defined republics, but in the new constitution would enjoy fewer rights.


Its legislature voted Thursday to raise its status within the Russian Federation, changing its name to the Urals Republic.


Presidential spokesman Anatoly Krasikov on Friday dismissed the step.


"If every region, country and city adopts, its own constitution, that can only make us smile", he said in a telephone interview. "Such announcements should not be taken seriously".


But leaders in the Sverdlovsk Region said they intended to push ahead with the local legislature's decision.


The move by Sverdlovsk is the latest episode of a dispute between Russia's 68 regions and the republics over how power should be shared with Moscow.


The current draft charter proclaims that all regions and republics should have equal political and economic rights. But the 21 ethnic republics have already won the status of "sovereign states" within the Russian Federation, without the right to secede but able to adopt their own laws and constitutions and to have such symbols of statehood as flags, national anthems and national languages.


Republican leaders want still more - namely, the ability to have bilateral treaties with the Kremlin and to establish their own tax and customs laws and independent foreign economic relations.


Moscow is not willing to grant them this much. In an interview Thursday a senior Yeltsin political adviser, Sergei Stankevich, described as "illusions of grandeur" the aspirations of some republics to "create a Kuwait within the Russian Federation".


But leaders of the 68 regions claim that the republics have already received special privileges that render meaningless the equal status guaranteed by the new draft charter. They point to Tatarstan, whose leaders have said that it was allowed to keep 50 percent of its oil revenues in 1992, and to the resource-rich Sakha, formerly Yakutia, and Bashkortostan, which want - and may get - similar agreements.


Such preferential treatment is what prompted Sverdlovsk Region, which borders Bashkortostan, to decide to become a republic, according to Sverdlovsk officials interviewed by phone from the province's capital, Yekaterinburg.


"It is nonsense for members of a federation to have different rights - not just cultural and political, but economic as well", said Vladimir Lomontsev, who is in charge of the regional administration's external relations.


"No one is saying that we want to leave Russia, or that we want to stop obeying Russian laws", Lomontsev said. "We don't want an army, a flag or a national anthem. But people who live next to each other shouldn't have to pay different taxes".


Lomontsev said that the Ural provinces of Chelyabinsk, Perm, Orenburg, Tyumen and Kurgansk were considering joining the new Urals Republic to form a new economic alliance.


Vitaly Mashkov, Yeltsin's personal representative to Sverdlovsk Region, said Friday that he also supported the idea of a Urals Republic, and added that the region would ask the top legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies, to approve the change in status.


In Moscow, Yeltsin spokesman Krasikov said that Mashkov had voiced his "own opinion".


"We will not have a constitution of the Sverdlovsk Region or of some Urals Republic; we will have a constitution of the Russian Federation", Krasikov said. "This document will define relations between the center and the regions".


Sverdlovsk backed Yeltsin, who headed the region's Communist Party from 1976 to 1985, in an April 25 referendum on confidence in the president's rule. But 83 percent of those who voted said "yes" to the idea of making the region a republic.


Voters expressed a similar desire to raise their provinces to the status of republic in Chita Region on the Chinese border, Leningrad Region, whose capital has reverted to its original name, St. Petersburg, and its neighbor to the east, Vologda region.