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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kozak's Regional Recipe

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During a Federation Council hearing on regional policy last month, Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak offered a range of new initiatives concerning the federal government's relationship to the regions. The major changes include shifting more authority to the regions and altering the status of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts.

Kozak is a former key member of President Vladimir Putin's administration who recently returned to Moscow after an "honorable exile" as the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. He is also the author of numerous administrative and municipal reforms, and his recent remarks certainly livened up the debate.

Kozak's political influence has risen significantly. According to a monthly poll by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kozak has risen from 40th to 11th place in the ratings of the country's leading politicians since his return to Moscow.

The Regional Development Ministry has gained significant political weight with Kozak at the helm, and his own powers have also expanded. Political clout, among other things, determines the size of a ministry's staff and its budget. The ministry is in good standing on both counts. The number of employees will increase from 300 -- the number under Kozak's predecessor, Vladimir Yakovlev -- to more than 600 by the end of the year. As far as expenditures are concerned, Kozak's ministry will become the central source of federal funding to the regions. This includes providing subsidies to the regions for developing social services and infrastructure.

In Kozak's opinion, Moscow will retain only those powers that are absolutely necessary to maintain centralized control. In addition, Kozak said at the Federation Council hearing that regional administrations should have a greater say in the allocation of funds, including investment projects. Moreover, Kozak has suggested abolishing offices of federal agencies that are located in the regions, except for those with "law enforcement and oversight" functions.

In order to evaluate Kozak's announcement, it is necessary to first answer two important questions: Whose initiatives were these -- Kozak's or the Kremlin's? And are they feasible, given that the election campaign has already begun?

Let's analyze these events in a more general political context. On the eve of Kozak's announcement, Putin promised to solve a range of problems facing municipalities, to expand their tax base through regional support and to restore a presidential council to help bolster self-governance in the regions.

At the same time, the committee that was created to improve relations between the federal and regional executive agencies, was abolished. And Kozak's former job of analyzing the effectiveness of regional government agencies has been given to Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov. Moreover, the Finance Ministry prepared a resolution on establishing norms for regional government workers' salaries. The aim of this initiative is to ensure that regional officials do not earn more than federal officials in the regions.

In determining just how realistic Kozak's proposals are, perhaps we should remember the old maxim that bad things tend to come true more often than good things. First, it can be assumed that control mechanisms will be strengthened. The evolution of the presidential envoy positions might prove key here. Recall that one of Kozak's deputy ministers, Kamil Iskhakov, previously served for many years as the mayor of Kazan before working as the presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District.

Second, a significant number of officials who ostensibly work at the federal level will now have regional status. This is an important development, considering the fact that governors are already fully integrated into Putin's power vertical.

Finally, Kozak's address was probably meant to send a positive signal to the regional elite before the elections. It was also intended to serve as a counterbalance to Putin's promises of greater support to municipalities at the expense of the regions.

It is curious to note that the Federation Council is considering a bill that will establish a federal policy toward the regions. Once the bill passes through all of the hearings, it will be sent to the full State Duma in December. Presumably, it will become a law before the March presidential election. In this way, this law will serve as an agreement for cooperation between the federal and regional political elites prior to the transition of authority in the Kremlin.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.