Rethinking Russian Federalism : The Politics of Intergovernmental Relations and Federal Reforms

Abstract: In Russia federalism and the design of federal institutions have been greatly debated topics ever since the beginning of the 1990s. When the newly elected Russian president Vladimir Putin introduced a number of federal reforms in May 2000 it represented the culmination of a debate on federalism that had been triggered by the political and economic crisis of 1998. In many ways these reforms entailed a different perspective on federalism, or in the terminology of this thesis a new “federal paradigm”, from the one that had dominated most of the Yeltsin era. At the same time the relations between federal and regional authorities, often referred to as intergovernmental relations, appeared to become less confrontational and fragmented than before. This work examines this latest stage in the Russian state-building process.In particular two elements are scrutinized. The first is the shift of federal paradigms that the federal reforms reflected. Combining organisation theory and historical institutionalism it is argued that the origins of federal paradigm shifts often can be traced to the federal system itself. In Russia the failure of the federal system manifested through the political and economic crisis of 1998 changed many governmental actors’ views on federalism. However, it was not until Putin became president that the new federal paradigm could consolidate.The second element concerns the connections between the new federal paradigm and the mode of intergovernmental relations. This work presents the argument that the way in which federalism is interpreted and conceptualised by governmental actors is important for the variation of intergovernmental relations across and within federal systems. Deriving from federal theory and some comparisons with other federal systems it is concluded that the federal paradigm that Putin represented in his first presidential term was on the whole more conducive for coordinate intergovernmental relations, at least in the short term.