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Russian Federalism Emerging From 'Uncertainty'

(Washington, DC--April 24, 2001) Russia made important strides toward the creation of a genuine federal state under former President Boris Yeltsin and is now emerging from a period of "uncertainty" created by President Vladimir Putin's failure until this month to speak out on the issue.

That was the message Mikhail Stolyarov, the first deputy representative of the Republic of Tatarstan in Moscow, delivered to an RFE/RL briefing in Washington today.

A distinguished Russian specialist on federalism, Stolyarov pointed out that the 1993 Russian constitution specified that Russia is both democratic and federal. He said that Yeltsin had promoted the strengthening of federal units in "a very substantial way" until nearly the end of his term.

But problems in Chechnya and his successor's initial failure to speak out on the subject opened the door for officials in Moscow who want a unitary state to move against the powers of regional governments, Stolyarov said.

Over the last year, he continued, these unitarists appeared to have achieved some important goals: redefining the nature of the Federation Council, creating the non-constitutional State Council, and requiring the harmonization of republic and regional legislation with Moscow's laws.

But in his message to the Federal Assembly on April 3, President Putin said that the era of disintegration had passed and that "a really strong state [in Russia] means a strong federation." That statement, Stolyarov said, meant that the subjects of the federation could actually benefit from the developments of the past year.

Saying that he was both "a federalist" and "an optimist," Stolyarov insisted that the restoration of the center's power to "manage" society is a necessary precondition for the flowering of the regions as well and that the creation of a common legal space will in fact give the regions greater scope for independent action.

Stolyarov said that he based his optimism about the future of Russian Federalism on the fact that Putin is "learning quickly" about the importance of federal arrangements.