President Putin has issued the decree No. 849 of May 13, “On the presidential plenipotentiary in a federal district,” according to which he ordered that the institution of presidential plenipotentiaries in the regions be transformed into seven federal districts, into which Russia will be divided and which coincide with the boundaries of the military districts. Observers have already noted that this decree is not accidental. The transformation is being made to strengthen the role and independence of security agencies in the regions within the framework of strengthening executive power. Regional branches of the Federal Security Service, Interior Ministry, Tax Police, and so on will be directly subordinated to the presidential plenipotentiaries in federal districts. Appointment and functioning of these plenipotentiaries will be absolutely independent from the regional leaders, although the provisions on presidential plenipotentiaries in federal districts does not state this openly.
Meanwhile, Anton Fedorov, the acting director of the presidential department for coordination of activities of presidential plenipotentiaries in federal districts, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta on May 16 that the new decree “is only the beginning of the administrative reform. The decree does not solve, but rather outlines the problem of reform of the federal structure.” According to the presidential instructions, only within the next three days will a fundamentally new scheme of governing federal executive power bodies be prepared and approved.
Fedorov added that “the new presidential plenipotentiaries will have considerably greater powers in comparison to the present plenipotentiaries, who work basically as observers. The new plenipotentiaries will be able to accomplish a range of economic, financial and administrative tasks.”
Fedorov also emphasized that “the coincidence of the new federal districts with military districts does not mean that the role of the military will be strengthened in the regions.” According to Fedorov, Russia’s territory is divided into federal districts, “a large administrative reform will be undertaken on a national scale.” Fedorov says that “this will be a gradual process, which will directly impact on the interests of the regional elite and will not be painless.” Fedorov did not rule out that the reform would possibly require amendments of the Constitution, “but this is a matter for the distant future and we need to be extremely careful about this.”
Vladimir Lysenko, the deputy chairperson of the Duma committee for federal affairs and regional policy, also expressed his opinion about the decree. Lysenko stated that the main task of the presidential plenipotentiaries in the districts will be not only “supervisory functions of control over observance of the Constitution, federal laws and decrees in the regions.” The plenipotentiaries will “select and appoint personnel in territorial branches of the federal power bodies.”
In an article published on Tuesday in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Lysenko wrote that the plenipotentiaries will also “promote the interests of national security in the regions,”. He added that “in order not to repeat old mistakes, it is necessary to clearly outline the legal status of such plenipotentiaries, and to choose highly-skilled and respectable officials for these seven posts both in the center and in the regions.”
According to other media, it is also planned to abolish the representation of regional leaders in the Federation Council and to issue a law making it possible for the president to dismiss them. However, the plans of the authors of the reform of state power in Russia are far-sighted. According to military sources, the Security Council and the General Staff plan that, during a special period, commanders of military districts (strategic directions), districts of Interior Forces, regional branches of the border guards, Emergency Situations Ministry and so on, will be subordinated to presidential plenipotentiaries. At any rate, some other presidential decrees make provisions to concentrate the functions of the civil and military leaders in the same hands. Thus, in addition to political problems, Russia also plans to solve the problems of military disconnection.
It is known that after the signing of the “Basics of the state military build-up policy until 2005” in summer 1998, the role of coordinating the body of the country’s defense capability provision was conferred to the General Staff and the territorial operational-strategic command. However, many powerful ministries have been and are still averse to this decision. For instance, unified logistics and the medical support of security agencies have not been implemented and only military trading organizations (voentorg) were unified. Officers of related professions are being trained by higher educational institutions that are subordinated to different security agencies.
In the new power structure, these problems will supposedly be solved through the Security Council and the leaders of the federal districts. The General Staff and the strategic commands (military districts) will perform planning and organizing functions within the scope of their competence, outlined by the Constitution and the law, “On Defense.”
Due to these circumstance, the centers of the federal districts almost coincided with the centers where the headquarters and commands of military districts are located. Only Novosibirsk and Nizhny Novgorod are exceptions. At any rate, these cities already have a reliable military infrastructure, because the headquarters of armies of combined arms are deployed there. The headquarters of a military district were also located in Novosibirsk until 1998. Within the next three months, when a new scheme of the state structure is approved, it will become clear whether the headquarters of military districts (including headquarters of Interior Forces districts, regional branches of the Emergency Situations Ministry, border guards, and so on) will be abolished. However, already now it is possible to say with assurance that military officers may be appointed the directors of federal districts.
Thus, it is obviously high time to stop guessing how will Putin continue to implement military reform. It is increasingly becoming evident that the formerly planned merger of the Volga and Urals military districts will not take place and the role of the territorial principle in troops’ command will grow. We also cannot rule out the possibility that for the sake of saving money, resources will be mobilized on the basis of territorial principles. This idea is not new and is already being implemented by the General Staff, which is currently planning the draft so that young men will mainly serve within the boundaries of the military districts from which they are recruited. A territorial system has already been implemented in Belarus and partially in Ukraine.
Military sources say that among the active authors of the new documents about the federal districts are General Staff Chief, Colonel General Anatoly Kvashnin, and Director of the Main Operational Department and Colonel General Yury Baluevsky. That is why it is possible that their candidacies are being considered for the supreme posts in the Defense Ministry. Acting Defense Minister Marshal Sergeev may become an advisor to the President, or the Secretary of the Security council, or the CEO of Rosvooruzhenie. Observers associate with the presidential decree in April on the extension of military service for Sergeev for a year.