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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Trick Is Striking a Balance

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Careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

That adage must be echoing in the halls of the Kremlin, as President Vladimir Putin and his administration behold the upper house of parliament they have created.

Since the reforms of 2000, when regional governors and legislators were plucked from the Federation Council and replaced by their appointees, its prestige and political clout have been dwindling. Instead of acting as a political force, the chamber obediently rubber-stamps Kremlin-penned legislation.

Last week the State Duma gave preliminary approval to a Kremlin-backed bill reducing what little control the regions had retained over the upper chamber.

The bill bans regional governors and legislatures from recalling their representatives during the first year of their terms. It also gives the chamber itself a much stronger say in deciding which of its members can be ousted. And although the legislation obliges senators to vote as instructed by their regional bosses, this obligation can be waived if the president, Cabinet or senate believes that the regions' instructions contradict existing law -- which is often open to interpretation.

But to say that the sole aim is to further rein in the regions would be to oversimplify the endless power game being played out between feuding interest groups. Even opponents of the Kremlin-backed bill acknowledge that most senators -- who now can be sacked for any reason by the regional officials who appointed them -- are too vulnerable.

Regional leaders are protesting, but not too loudly. Although weakened, they are still a force to be reckoned with -- especially on the ground -- and perhaps they are counting on some concessions from the Kremlin, for example as it redistributes the powers of regional and municipal authorities.

Moreover, the bill could undergo significant changes in the second reading.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, the Kremlin has done plenty to bring regional leaders to heel, and emasculating the upper house was part of that mission.

But that could prove to be a weak spot, especially if Duma members start getting too feisty in the run-up to parliamentary elections. Within the past few months, the lower house has not been as compliant as before: Thorny legislation, like the anti-Communist referendum bill and housing reform, has been pushed through after several rounds of voting and lots of haggling behind the scenes.

The trick for the Kremlin in dealing with the Federation Council will be to strike a balance: to keep the house manageable, while helping to boost its status. Whether or not that will do the trick for the country is a separate issue altogether.