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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pendulum Shifts to Center

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Over the seven years of Vladimir Putin's presidency, there has been a marked shift of power from the regions to state corporations. Before, the governors had a free hand to do what they wanted; now this has been granted to state-controlled companies. This power shift was demonstrated by the latest round of dismissals of governors.

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov last month was the third replacement of a regional head since the beginning of August. Earlier that month, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, a veteran politician and one of President Boris Yeltsin's first appointments, was dismissed. The second to lose his job was Sakhalin Governor Ivan Malakhov.

These three successive gubernatorial dismissals come on the eve of State Duma elections, when the leadership would not normally switch horses midstream.

On one hand, it is clear that the dismissals were connected to upcoming elections, particularly to the presidential vote. On the other hand, it is evident that the Kremlin has less need than ever for governors -- especially those who cannot be used to pull in votes for United Russia.

It is important to note the backgrounds of those who will replace the dismissed regional heads. The new Sakhalin governor is connected to Rosneft, the Samara governor from state arms exporter Rosoboronexport and the Novgorod governor from the Agriculture Ministry.

These events underscore the break between Moscow and the governors. The pendulum of power between the regions and the center had been functioning properly for many years, but now it seems to have broken. Prior to the last elections, when there was no issue of a presidential successor, the Kremlin needed only a simple majority in the Duma and seemed to have little need for the governors' support. During this time, the pendulum of power shifted in favor of the regions.

Soon after Putin's re-election, however, the Kremlin began a new offensive against the governors that culminated in the 2004 decision to cancel gubernatorial elections and appoint regional heads from Moscow. It seems that the Kremlin is planning to tighten its grip even further on the regions.

Many of the regional political machines remain intact, despite Kremlin efforts toward centralization. Moscow will reappoint politicians who have kept an iron hold over their administrations -- even if it means closing its eyes to occasional opposition to the Kremlin and violations of the law. This applies to Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev, Mayor Yury Luzhkov and others. And by the same logic, governors whose political machines cannot generate either the necessary votes for their own re-elections or in support of Kremlin policy will probably be replaced -- most likely by individuals with ties to state corporations.

The regional political power structures are an important instrument that helps leaders of a large country hold onto their authority. Under Stalin, when state control was at an all-time high, this was achieved by total control of the law enforcement agencies and the regular rotation of regional leaders and generals.

The Kremlin has cleared a place for large state corporations, which have powerful financial and administrative resources. These companies are equipped with their own media structures, analysts and political strategists. They are savvy political players, signing contracts with regional governors, participating directly in election campaigns and subsequently lobbying their interests in the Duma and regional legislatures through deputies with whom they are closely connected. Among the most influential of these corporate players are Gazprom, Russian Railways, Unified Energy System and Rosoboronexport.

A model of oligarchic state capitalism has thus arisen out of Russia's weakened democratic institutions. Much can be said about the political deficiencies of this system. It is inherently unstable and epitomizes the predominance of corporate over national interests, just as the regional power structure epitomized the predominance of the interests of the regional elite. A corporatist, state-sponsored oligarchy is inherently undemocratic because its policies are formulated privately rather than publicly. Furthermore, it is created by the political elite to serve its own interests and does not reflect the needs or wishes of the people.

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