Loose Federation in a Dysfunctional State: Disintegration or Functionality of the Russian Federation?

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Herd, Graeme P. "Russia: Systemic Transformation or Federal Collapse?" Journal of Peace Research, vol. 36, no.3, 1999, pp.259-269

Alexseev, Mikhail A. "Decentralization Versus State Collapse: Explaining Russia's Endurance" Journal of Peace Research, vol.38, no.1, 2001, pp.101-106

Herd, Graeme P. "Russia And The Politics of 'Putinism'" Journal of Peace Research, vol.38, no.1, 2001, pp.109-112 The Russian Federation featured high on Western policy-makers' agenda, as turbulent financial and economic events followed the demise of Communism. With the recent financial 'meltdown' of 1998 overcome, should one expect the Federation's imminent collapse, or indulge in optimism at its survival to this date? There appears to be reason for both.

Writing in 1999, Graeme P. Herd predicts imminent disintegration of the Russian Federation. Russia's economy and politics were badly shaken by the financial and monetary 'meltdown' in August of the previous year. Budgetary federalism collapsed, Yeltsin's charismatic figure was gone, his patronage networks undermined. The Duma left to rule had little political authority. In the midst of a political vacuum and an economic crisis, "no new mechanisms [were] being developed to maintain the balance of power within the federation" (Herd, 1999, p260). The August crisis had acted as a catalyst to decentralization - an informal process begun in the years before 1998. He traces the loose nature of the center-periphery relationship in federal Russia to the collapse of Communism: economic turmoil followed, threatening regions' economic survival. Self-reliance was urged onto those previously subject to centralized planning. They began to be run by local elites and interest groups. Russia's regions increasingly asserted political, administrative and economic independence during the 1990s [1]. When the central government proved helpless against the 'meltdown' in 1998, crisis management fell once again to regional governors, further strengthening the shift to decentralization. The integrity of the Federation was thereby weakened, to a point in the near future when the Federation would de facto disintegrate into a confederation.[2]

Herd's prediction of federal disintegration draws on the shattering effects of the 1998 Meltdown on the center's ability to govern the whole effectively. If, however, the focus is shifted away from the (now overcome) 'meltdown' in 1998, some find little reason to worry despite the recent turmoil. Mikhail Alexeev interprets Herd's proofs of federal disintegration as proofs of State endurance. Writing three years after the August 'meltdown', Alexeev has seen the 1998 crisis come and go, another instance of the difficult metamorphosis into a post-Soviet order. While the event scarred Russia, it left unshaken the country's administrative modus operandi, in place since the early 1990s. The post-Soviet democratic constitution of December 1993 endowed the federal system with the administrative flexibility necessary to preserve the Federation, i.e. to keep the center and the periphery together. To those regions threatening separation, Yeltsin granted privileges.[3] To all, he offered enough independent political and economic decision-making to 'buy' their loyalty. His occasional resort to violence [4] did not change the fact that regions had strong incentive not to seriously undermine the state and its federal structure. This technique of "strategic bargaining" granted flexibility to center-periphery relations otherwise based on such regulations [5] as assured Moscow administrative and political leverage over the periphery. Ethnic heterogeneity within and among regions is another argument of endurance: clashing interests among the different ethnicities disabled them from unifying behind a strong anti-Russian (i.e. anti-centrist) pro-independence movement [6]. Alexeev thus tries to demonstrate that - in the early 1990s - political circumstances and Russia's administrative setup had...
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