Russia's Center Is Failing to Hold

MOSCOW: For most of its nine years of postcommunist transition Russia's political blocs were too deeply divided to work together except negatively – this at a time when the country demanded resolute and positive decisions. Recently, however, Russian politics witnessed a spate of political marriages, some tactical, some "shotgun" unions that smack of desperation. No matter how contrived, these political alliances are revealing: they highlight Russia's political decentralization from which there now appears to be no turning back.

Proof of the potency of Russia's political decentralization has come from the center itself. Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow's bumptious mayor, allied his Fatherland Party with All Russia, a grouping bringing together a majority of Russia's provincial governors. Once hitched to the governors, Mayor Luzhkov was able to attract as their candidate for president next year Yevgeny Primakov, the popular former spymaster-cum-prime minister (and supposedly Russia's most trusted man), who had been sacked by President Yeltsin last May due to his very popularity.

Originally, provincial governors were seen as creatures of Boris Yelstin, who appointed them after the break-up of the USSR and used their control of the upper house of the Duma as a cudgel to check the communist-dominated lower house. But in the mid-1990s governorships became elected offices. Through this electoral legitimacy (no matter how rigged the elections), Russia's governors secured enormous weight in the political system. They now jealously guard their power and band together to protect their prerogatives and perks. Moreover, governors play a vital role in such key issues as determining whether a region attracts foreign investment or is shunned by international businessmen.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. An employee works at a chemical fiber weaving company VCG/Getty Images

    China in the Lead?

    For four decades, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth under a centralized, authoritarian political system, far outpacing growth in the Western liberal democracies. So, is Chinese President Xi Jinping right to double down on authoritarianism, and is the “China model” truly a viable rival to Western-style democratic capitalism?

  2. The assembly line at Ford Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Whither the Multilateral Trading System?

    The global economy today is dominated by three major players – China, the EU, and the US – with roughly equal trading volumes and limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system. With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization.

  3. Donald Trump Saul Loeb/Getty Images

    The Globalization of Our Discontent

    Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.

  4. A general view of the Corn Market in the City of Manchester Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

    A Better British Story

    Despite all of the doom and gloom over the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union, key manufacturing indicators are at their highest levels in four years, and the mood for investment may be improving. While parts of the UK are certainly weakening economically, others may finally be overcoming longstanding challenges.

  5. UK supermarket Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The UK’s Multilateral Trade Future

    With Brexit looming, the UK has no choice but to redesign its future trading relationships. As a major producer of sophisticated components, its long-term trade strategy should focus on gaining deep and unfettered access to integrated cross-border supply chains – and that means adopting a multilateral approach.

  6. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now