Emil Pain
Director, Center for Ethno-political Studies (NGO/Moscow),
Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution of
the Kennan Institute (2000-2001)
Evolution of Center–Periphery Relations in the Russian Federation: From Yeltsin to Putin.
Myths of Putin
Before comparing the particulars of Putin's policies with those of his predecessors, I would like
to remind you that on the one hand, Putin is not a new political actor. He is a part of the Yeltsin
legacy. On the other hand, Yeltsin's politics were also different at various periods.
His government began at the time of liberalism, and its main task was to reduce the role of the
state in the life of Russian society. In the second period, his approach was said to be based on the
necessity of strengthening the role of the state. In the first stages, the closeness of the positions of
Russia and the west were noticed in foreign policy right up to the support of Russian leadership in the
action of America against Saddam Hussein. Than the second period Russia demonstrated a separate
position in the majority of serious international problems-Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Iran. If in the first
period the brighter, famous people played a larger role in surrounding Yeltsin- Gaidar, Chubais,
Kozirev, and others, than in the second stage, there were darker, less noted bureaucrats such as
Borodin, Korzjakov Yumashev, Voloshin.
Namely at this time, after 1996, when the former liberal goals were forgotten and the
oligarchic, or so-called "family", form of administration of Russia strengthened Vladimir Putin was
born as an independent political actor. At this time Putin received his first post in the rank of minister
and became the head of the Federal Security Forces. Than Yeltsin publicly named him his successor.
However, in the consciousness of the majority of Russians, he wasn't perceived as the successor to
Yeltsin and that is the most important, as a continuer of the anti-liberal tendencies of the second stage
of Yeltsin’s governance. Moreover, a part of the Russian intelligentsia, which traditionally connects all
of their hope for a better future with the new leader, be it tsar or General Secretary of the Communist
Party, and at this time wanted to have confidence in the new president as a messiah, deliverer of Russia
from all her woes. Namely Russian intellectuals contrived several myths of Putin "liberal and
reformer" and these myths in part shared with the West.
The first myth: "Putin wants reformation of Russia, but the “Yeltsin Family” is
inhibiting him." This is a very typical Russian myth, resembling the traditional Russian fairy-tale
about the "good tsar" and the "bad boyars." Therefore it is natural that part of the Russian intelligentsia
supported this myth. But I was surprised that some of my American Colleagues, spoke in the terms of
this myth when they described the modern political situation in Russia. I should remind you that the
Yeltsin family named Putin the guarantor of the family’s preservation. And still now they are quite
satisfied with him.
I am speaking of the family, not only in the narrow sense (such as relatives of Yeltsin), but in
the wider meaning, such as groups of people and corporations, which having received in the course of
privatization of Soviet property most of the profit. This group is striving to retain these advantages in
three directions.
First of all, they apply all power to surprising political and economic competitors, especially
such s as the Moscow group, leading by Mayor Luzhkov, who openly stated that he plans to reexamine the results of privatization. It happened that the casualty of the company became Berezovskii,
who, not long ago, playing a more important role in the "big family." But Berezovskii is not the first
man in history to become a victom of the team he himself defeated.
Secondly, the group is striving to subordinate the government, (in fact themselves) by means of
mass information, most of all television, enabling the retention of power on the basis of manipulating
the conscious of the population especially before the elections.
Thirdly, striving to weaken the political influence of regional leaders, which are the only
political strength potentially capable of restricting the all powerful Kremlin in Russia where until now
no parties, no other institutions of civil society were developed. Besides this, decreasing the political
weight of the regional leaders allows those closest to the Kremlin oligarchy groups to place the
regional economies under their control.
Everything that Putin has already done during his presidency had not exceeded the goals of
the self-preservation of the family in the broader sense of the word. It is possible that with time, he will
drag out the presence of his administration officials, associates with the "Yeltsin family", and then they
will inevitably leave. However, they are still useful to him.
Mainly is that there are not any kind of substitutions or divergence from the goals and values of
the "Yeltsin family" and Putin. The myth of contradictions between them is superficially supported by
the president political technologists, such as Gleba Pavlovsky in order to separate the popularity of
Putin from the unpopular Yeltsin.
In my opinion, the retention of the influence on Putin of representatives from the former
"family" is the lesser evil than the influence of other representatives of his political coalition namely,
his friends form the Liningrad KGB. The example for this is the story with the return of the Soviet
anthem. Yeltsin publicly and categorically announced his opposition to the anthem1. This by the way
was the first open break between Yelsin and Putin after the later was elected president of Russia.
The Second Myth: Russian Society expects from President Putin the development of
economic reform. Nothing could be farther from the truth than this notion. Russian society is tired of
reform; politicians, namely, those who are connected with reforms, such as Gaidar or Chubais, for
example, have the most negative rating. The majority of Russians expect no new reforms from the
President, but the punishment of those guilty for the previous political results during the time of
President Yeltsin, which today are considered the failures or even the national shame of Russia. As the
disgraces they min: the fall of the Soviet Union; the shame of the Russian army in the first Chechen
war (1994-1996); privatization; the excessive authority given to leaders of Russian regions, especially
of the republics etc. Who is to blame in all of this from the point of view of public opinion? Again it
is the oligarchs, regional barons and liberal mass media.
Putin is acting in full accordance with these societal expectations, in the basis of these negative
reforms, and has considered all of the Yeltsin period as a " time lost."
The Third Myth: under President Yeltsin, anarchy grew between Moscow and these
republics and President Putin brought order and stabilized the situation. In fact it is the opposite.
Yeltsin became president of Russia at a very critical period in its history. Russia was feeling the
consequences of the disintegration of the USSR, the inertia of this process. In 1990-1991 all of the
Russian Federation republics proclaimed declarations of sovereignty. This was the same declaration,
which was taken before as republics of the Soviet Union. The threat of the disintegration of Russian in
its time was the worst.
See NTV. RU. 12.06. 00; Komsomolskia Pravda 8-12-00
Yeltsin managed to stabilize the situation at the expense of concessions to the republics. If in
the beginning of his actions, the leaders of the republics supported the most radical national
movements, already by 1993, the situation would have been radically changed. At that time something
resembling a secret pact between Yeltsin and the leaders of the republics appeared against radical
nationalists. And since that time not one serious manifestation of separatism, appeared with the
exception of Chechenya2. The situation has changed for the worse now, since Putin began to exert
pressure on the leaders of the republics. In answer to this they have revived their nationalistic
separatist strength. The leaders of the republics do not exhibit their negative sentiments against Putin’s
policies openly. Instead they secretly allow nationalistic movements in their Republics to develop.
Creation of seven administrative areas with a governer-general at the helm is seen in the
regions as a method of intimidation, so it is without doubt disliked by all the leaders of the regions.
Added to that is the fact that none of them want to share power. But only few show their dislike
publicly, for example, the president of the Chuvash republic, Nikolai Fedorov, and the governor of
Sverdlov oblast, Eduard Rosel. Others either keep their mouths shut or publicly support presidential
appointees hoping to quietly subotage the implementation of their directives.
Federal authorities do not have to be concerned with collective opposition by the leaders of the
regions, they are incapable of joint political activity, as was demonstrated by their behavior in the
parliamentary and presidential elections of 1999. The real threat to Moscow comes not from the
governors of regions or the presidents of republics, but from local political movements that are not
dependent on Moscow. Only the leaders of the regions can have real influence on these movements,
but today they do not want to avail themselves of that potential influence in order to resist the Kremlin.
There seems to be some point to the alleged main function of governer-generals to make the
laws of the regions consistent with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. But presidential
appointees carry out their main mission very selectively: they demand the repeal of laws that give
greater autonomy to the regions, but do not demand that regional leaders correct laws that violate
human rights and the rights of national minoraties. For example, in the Krasnodar kray there are a
number of laws that are in glaring violation of international and national standards on the treatment of
refugees, especialy national minorities, but the representative of the president in the Southern Region,
general Victor Kazansev, did not even once bring up the question of repealling these laws- his main
mission being to guarantee public support for the war with Chechnia 3. The governor of the Sounthern
region has been increasingly and openly abusive to many ethinc groups living in the region. (Turks,
Armenians, Jews) But the representative of the president, the guarantor of Russian laws in the region,
did not even reprimand him.
The power of regions’ heads should be limited. But not from above, not at the risk of
concentrating even more power in the Kremlin, but in the development of municipal self-government.
Putin’s reform proposes to weaken further an already insignificant role of municipal authorities,
because as compensation for loss of power on the federal level the leaders of the regions are to receive
a free hand in their dealings with the municipalities.
The historic precurors of administrative regions are general-gubernatorstva in the tsarist Russia
and sovnarhoz in the Soviet era. Even these forms of governance, more antiquated for the soviet times
2 For more information see: Evolution of interrelations between the center and regions of Russia // ed. Jeromy
Azrael. Emil Pain Moscow, Complex-Progress, 1997, pg. 30-52.
3 Kazantsev’s five-year plan “Comissars” to control government property. // Nezavisimaya Gazeta
November 3, 2000
than super regions are for ours, proved that fear and force alone will not keep together a multyethinic
state. And since those times the level of economic independence of the regions has substantialy
increased, most of the economy is privatized. Bullying is all that presidential appointees have to use.
They can not influence the state of affairs in the regions, and the bureacracies that they create only
raise the threat of corruption.
The idea of Nikita Khrushev to
create sovnarxoz fell through. Very large territories (a sovnarhoz was to include 3-4 oblasts, rupublics
or krays) were poorly governed. But the administrative regions are even bigger (they include 12-13
regions), in addition the party discipline of the Soviet times that supported the command hierarchy is
gone. This alone condemns Putin’s administrative system to failure.
The Chechen War as a factor in the disintegration of Russia.
Russian Powers in starting the Second Chechen war say, that they have prevented the fall of
Russia, but they are not correct. If, in its time, the Russian Federation excluded Chechenya from its
composition, cut it out like a cancerous tumor, this would not at all have brought on the “domino
effect” --that is the departure of other republics from Russia. The example of the destitute and criminal
Chechenya did not infect or inspire anyone and its relationship with its neighbors before the war
became worse everyday. But now, since the beginning of the war, solidarity with Chechnya grows.
There are: 1) the solidarity of all non-Russian nationalities, including Volga Tartars and Siberian
Yakuts; 2) Islamic solidarity; 3) solidarity of all offended nationalities. The last is especially
With the beginning of the war, practically all Caucasians, including those people who
traditionally do not like the Chechens, are experiencing some of the same pressures of the Chechens:
in that for the majority of the Russian people, all Caucasians have one face—they are all “dark” and all
“terrorist”. These phobias especially grew after several terrorist acts in Russian cities.
Of course the second Chechen war is a special problem. It has already dragged on for exactly a
year and the losses of the Russian troops, according to official statistics from Oct. 1999 to 4 Oct 2000
consists of 2,500 killed and more than 7 thousand wounded—that is more than the first year of the
previous (first) Chechen war of 1994-1996.4
Chechen wars
Average Number of Deaths/Month
4 From the statements of the colonel-general Valeriy Manilov - first deputy commander of the General Head
Quarters of the Armed Forces, Russian Federation. ITAR-TASS, October, 10.2000.
The founding successes of the Russian army remain in the past. When the guerrilla war (now
often called the “dynamite war) began, the regular army can no longer use it’s basic military
advantage—aviation and artillery, but the rebels, on their part, are attacking dispersed groups of
Russian soldiers and inflicting upon them the most serious losses. In the last months the average losses
to the Russian troops have stabilized, however, on a rather unpleasant level: every week, the army’s
losses are 15 – 20 people killed and 50 – 55 people wounded.
Even in a pure military sense, there is little probability of a military victory for Moscow, but
especially a utopian idea to have an economical victory in Chenchenya. It means turning the Chechens
to the Russian side through the economic restoration of Chechenya. How will it be possible to create
new workplaces in Chechenya if it was not possible to do in any one of the other republics of the
Northern Caucuses where there was no war? How is it possible to restore industry in Chechenya if
more than 80% of it was concentrated in peaceful times in Grozniy, which now is completely
destroyed? How is it possible to restore industry in Grozniy if even by official Russian statistics one
third of all rebels are concentrated in this city and it is namely here that Russian troops constantly carry
the most losses? The example of the character of the present reconstruction in Grozni given by
Interfax News : “In the past two days during the special operation, federal powers have been using
heavy machinery fully clearing the earth of all structures of the central market in Grozniy”. 5 This
action was taken due to the fact that during the last several months on the territory of the bazaar
guerrillas were prevalent
History of colonial war of the 20th century shows that when a war drags on for a long time the
intervening party obviously will not win for the following reasons:
The army cannot be located for long (more than 5 – 7 years) in a hostile occupied territory. It
will begin to demoralize. Demoralization of 100 thousand Russian troops in Chechenya is already
displaying itself: soldiers drink, they are afraid of retribution and because of this they drink more.
The longer the war drags on, a larger part of the home country population becomes dissatisfied
with it. Some of them have already lost those closest to them to the war, for others, the call to military
service for their children lies ahead. Russian people are ready to support the war with Chechenya
abstractly, but not ready to send their relatives to it. The Russian army is already experiencing
difficulty with reinforcements and these problems will inevitably grow.
57% of surveyed Russians do not believe that the resistance of large formation of Chechen
fighters has been broken. Even more of them believe that the rebels will once again take
control of the situation in Chechnya.
The economic burdens of the war are being felt. According to the academic, Petrakov, it is
costing approximately $160 million a month.6 For now these costs are covered by the especially large
profits from the sale of oil at a high price, but the oil market conditions may change.
Mainly, the army, who for a long time has not been able to achieve victory, the rebels stop
being afraid, in this case activating not only the Chechens but other nationalities such as the Tartars.
They begin to think: “If the Russian army for such a long time can’t achieve victory over the
Chechens, and there are not more than 400,000 Chechens remaining, then how could they overcome
Tartars who number 6 million. The loss of the army’s function of fear—could be a factor in
accelerating the break up of Russia.
Sooner or later, Russia will come to leave Chechenya and it will be less dangerous for Russia,
then the present situation.
Interfax, November, 27.2000
Nikolai Petrakov. After a respite one could lose the fight. // Trud , January 11, 2000, p. 2.
The changing ethnic composition of the population
This is the biggest challenge for Russia. What do I mean? Today in Russia, Russians compose
83% of the population. In spite of the growing proportion of the non Russian peoples (especially
Muslims and Buddists), in the coming 20 years Russians will continue to be the majority in general in
the country. But it will be another situation in some of the regions of the federation.
In almost all of the republics of the Northern Caucuses, Russians are already the minority. The
process of their exodus from here began long before the Chechen war, which has further encouraged it
and made it irreversible. In the Far East and in Siberia, the Russians are only the minority in Tuva, but
already in the upcoming years they will become the minority in Buryatiya and maybe in Yakutiya.
According to the prognosis of the best Russian specialists already in 10 – 15 years the number of
Chinese in Russian regions of the Far East and Siberia will consist of about 10 million people as a
result of illegal immigration, and then they will become the ethnic majority of the biggest part of
Russia geographically.7
But the main danger to watch for Russians is in the Povolzh regions. There, already today,
Russians are the minority in Chuvashiya, and soon will be the minority in Tartarstan and
Bashkortostan. Tartars, Bashkiris and Chuvashis are ethnic relatives’ peoples, belonging to the Turkish
group, besides which Tartars and Bashkiris are Muslim Sunnites. The Tartar and Bashkir nationalists
more than before speak of uniting and creating one federation8. In the event of it appearing on the
world political map, it would be a comparatively large state, in regards to the size of the population,
surpassing all of the Baltic States and Georgia combined.
Thus, Russia is threatened by the processes of ethnic disintegration. There can be two variants
of disintegration. First “peripheral secession”—leaving the composition of the Russian Republic,
located on the boarders of the federation, like Chechenya in the Caucasus or Tuv in Siberia. This is
the least dangerous variant of disintegration.
Where it is more dangerous to Russia is the second variant—collapse of the country: a
formation of one or two comparatively large, independent governments and in the very middle, Russia.
If a Povolzh federation or republic formed, it could bring the collapse of Russia, which in this event
would simply split into two poorly connected pieces between its eastern and western parts.
The probability of either type of disintegration will greatly depend on the tendency of
economic development.
That numer of Chinies often stated by well known Russian demographers, for
example by Zhana Zaionchkovskaia at the conference: "The Role of Etnocultural
Cleavages and the Perspectives of of Relations between Russia and its Frontiers2
Turin/10-12 Novemer 1999.
8 This statement was first used on the 8th of April 1997 in Kazan by the chairmans of the executive comities of the
Tatars World congress and of the Bashkir World congress (“kurultia”) Indus Tagirov and Niyaz Mazjidov. See “Sociopolitical Situation in Russian Regions”// Vestnic CEPRI (Ethno-Political and Regional Studies Center. NO 2 (58) April
1997. – Moscow, Ethno-Political and Regional Studies Center. 1997.
In the summer of 2000 leaders of Tatar national center (Tatarsky Obchestveni
Cehter “TOC”/ made a proposal to create a confederation “Idel-Ural” of three
republics Tatarstan, Bashcortustan and Chuvashia.// Kazan, ITAR-TASS. 26
The current economic upturn in Russia- productivaty growth, increase in gold and currency
reserves and in investment flows - I consider to be unstable, and, because of its causes, dangerous for
the long term development of Russia.
The increase in production began after the financial crash of 1998, when bying power of the
population fell so low that pople could no longer afford imported goods. Those goods left the Russian
market, bringing a temporary revival of local production. But without competition, the Russian
industry, already technologicly backward, lost the last incentive for modernization. Because of this,
many experts believe that in the next two to three years Russa will experience an acute technological
crisis and even an increas in the number of technological catastrophies.
The second cause of a temporary economic upturn is the increase in the world prices of oil and
natural gas. This has further concentrated the Russian capital in one sector of the economy- energy.
But the experience of others, including developed countries like Holland and Norway, ( not to mention
Indonesia and Iran) show that this kind of concentration can have painful consequences for economic
development. An excessive reliance on natural resources usully makes the economy ”decadent” and
The third factor contributing to Russia’s economic growth, to which the Russian government
pays special attention, is the increase in the production and sale of arms. It is a very dangerous
phenomenon. Besides the fact that the market for Russian weapons is very limited, it is also confined
to those states which the West regards as irresponsible if not downright criminal. It may even lead to
the imposition of sanctions on Russia, and then the only real achievement of Putin’s government,
creation of a more favorable investment climate, will be destroyed. In addition, the growth of the
military-industrial complex will inescapably strengthen the Soviet, chauvinistic and imperialistic
streaks in the Russian society. But let’s get back to the question of the direct influence of economic
development on the intergration processes in Russia.
In the event of a substantial economic growth in regards to the present level, a peripheral
secession could be expected, Chechenya will certainly go, but the remaining territories should be
integrated into the overall economic interests. In the event of maintaining the present level of
development or its worsening, the collapse of Russia would become more probable.
Its threat can determine two principally different types of political doctrines of the Russian
Possible types of Political Doctrines of the Russian Government
First, is the consolidation on the basis of the idea of a multicultural society. It signifies that
Russian power, realizing the threat of the disintegration of the country, would radically change its
present course in national politics. Instead of supporting Russians as the basic ethnic group it would
strive to unite all nationalities as the foundation for a valued, democratic society. It would open more
representation of non-Russian nationalities and their inclusion into the political elite. It would cease to
create the primary conditions for the Russian Orthodox Church, and would stop the predomination
over other religions of the country. Government television would begin to carry their programs not
only in Russian; instead of the order of Saint George, there would be established new government
symbols less connected to pure Russian specific features etc.
Unfortunately, I can say that the idea of a multi cultural society is absolutely foreign to the
present powers and more importantly, to the majority of Russian society. This is clearly demonstrated
by the decision of the Russian parliament to make the old Soviet anthem the new anthem of the
Russian federation. For now only in its musical form, but that music will remind many of the imperial
content of the anthem.
That is why the government probably will use another mechanism of consolidating the Russian
society. It will be the consolidation in the foundation of the growth of Russian nationalism. Therefore,
this is what is occurring already now.
The newly elected governor of the Kursk oblast, secretary of the local division of the
Communist Party, Alexander Mikhaijov, said his victory was a joint effort of the Kremlin and his team
and “shows Russia I beginning to cleanse itself from the filth” created by Jewish leaders. 9
In the Pskov oblast, reelected for a second term, Eugenie Mikhailov, who is one of the leaders
of Zhirinovskij's party, expressed his ultra-nationalist position. At his inauguration he stated that with
the seating of a new Russian president all political disagreements between him and the Kremlin have
disappeared10. In the Kaliningrad oblast, in support of the Kremlin, in the recent elections, Admiral
Vladimir Egorov won and openly expressed his pro-Soviet and anti-western sentiments. In the
Ulyanov oblast, a good chance of winning the upcoming governor elections, again with full support of
the Kremlin, has general Vladimir Shamanov, well-known from the Chechen wars. This Russian
nationalist is seen as the most violent general even by those Chechens, who support the Kremlin.
The last Gubernatorial elections give reason to think that the Kremlin consistently and
successfully backed up former Soviet officials and generals, exploiting Russia's nostalgia for the
Soviet Union, and popular nationalistic sentiments.
It is possible that all of these Soviet-era generals, admirals, communist functionaries, and the
leaders of Russian chauvinist organizations overstate the level of federal support in the last elections.
But even if this is the case, the very fact that the old Soviet nomenklatura and the new Russian
nationalists speak of their friendship with the Kremlin, and personally with Putin, without doubt will
be thought of by the Russian people as important. Nothing like this could have taken place under
Yeltsin. The Communists did not try to play up to him even when he was as popular as Putin is today,
everyone knew of his anticommunist sentiments. The Russian nationalists considered him so foreign
that they invented a myth of his Jewish origins. On the other hand, Putin was referred to as one of their
own by practically all the leaders of Russian nationalism - Prohanov, Chikin, Zhirinovsky and others.
If the Kremlin did not bring Russian nationalists to power, if they did it on their own, then the
situation is even more frightening. This means that the federal government does not control the
situation in the regions, and the growth of Russian chauvinism has been such that it can develop
uncontrollably even against the will of the authorities, exploiting the prevailing mood of the Russians.
Now in Russia xenophobia is growing, suspicion towards the West is growing, an imperialistic
sentiments, also is growing. Therefore, for nationalistic consolidation there needs to be an image of an
external enemy—“worldwide Islamic terrorism” or “world imperialism”. Therefore, for nationalistic
consolidation there needs to be an image of an external enemy—“worldwide Islamic terrorism” or
“world imperialism”
If nationalism and imperialist militarism really firmly establishes in Russia it could for some
time, stop the disintegration process, but then Russian chauvinism will surely stimulate the backlash of
the national minorities. Of course, strategically, this is a dead end path for democratic development.
Sharon LaFrantere. Provincial Vote Suggests Russia Wants Firm Rule/ Washington Post. Desembere,16.2000
Inaugural speech of the Governor Eugene Mihalov/ Pskovskaya Pravda (Pscov) , November, .22. 2000
The picture which I have drawn, may seem very depressing. Therefore for those who enjoy a
happy ending, I will finish my article on an optimistic note.
All negative tendency it is still for the time being a potential, therefore Russia has time to
preventing them. Who than is capable of aresting the Sovietization of Russia?
Many Russian intellectuals still pin their hopes on Putin. He is an energetic man, intelligent,
and can understand the danger to the country posed by the present-day Russian nationalism and
antiwestern feelings. And it is still important for him to be accepted by the “polite society,” especially
by the leaders of the seven richest countries in the world. But it is much more likely that Putin, even
when he understands the downside of some of his decisions, will not want to change them, but will
attempt to justify them. This is how he behaved during the incident with the submarine Kursk, and he
behaved the same way in the Chechen war. I am more hopeful that this policy of Sovietization will
give rise to a new democratic opposition. It is possible that the main unintended historic achievement
of Putin will be the solidification of democratic forces in opposition to his “Back to the USSR” policy.
Finally, I hope Russia has perspectives for a successful development in both the economic and
political spheres. However, these perspectives are not connected with a continuance, but with an
overcoming of the present course of Putin's administration. In the process of this overthrowing, new
political powers of the liberal democratic sense will be formed sooner or later. These powers will
differ from the present day "Russian Democrats" most of all in the realization that liberal reforms in
the Russian economy will not be possible without liberal reforms in political system.

Evolution of Center-Periphery Relations in the Russian Federation