Putin’s decision to appoint governors may raise but a ripple in ethnically Russian regions (which is not to say they don’t deserve self-government), but how about “ethnic” republics like Tatarstan, Yakutia or any patch on the North Caucasian quilt? Should we expect unrest fueled by ethnic sentiment? After all, the right of the ethnic regions to elect governors–titled Presidents—is the most remarkable vestige of their autonomy.
The essence of Russian fiscal federalism is that funds get transferred from a handful of resource-rich regions to the rest, numbering about 80. Hence the standard deal: the governor promises loyalty and delivers votes for the federal president and/or the Kremlin-backed parties, and Moscow reciprocates by guaranteeing budgetary transfers and tolerating corruption—among other things, letting the governor’s gang pocket some of the federal money. Apparently, Putin thinks the price of loyalty has gotten too high, especially in the North Caucasus. Not only is corruption holding back economic development; it is a threat to national security. It may be significant that Dmitry Kozak, whom Putin appointed his commissar for the North Caucasus, is reportedly the architect of the centralizing electoral reform.