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North Caucasus Faux District

The main crisis gripping Russia is a crisis of government. When a government is unable to govern it pretends to govern, and Moscow proposed a record number of measures that could be termed “pseudo-governance” last week. The first was the creation of the North Caucasus Federal District.

The tsar’s appointed governor used to rule the Caucasus from his residence in Tiflis, now Tbilisi, and had an army to enforce his authority. The new presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Alexander Khloponin, will rule from Pyatigorsk — and he has no army. Nor does he have any money. Thus, the formation of the North Caucasus Federal District only created jobs for several thousand more bureaucrats.

If the Caucasus is poorly governed at the regional level, it stands to logic that the president of a republic needs to be changed. If the Caucasus is poorly governed at the Kremlin level, it stands to logic that changes are needed in the Kremlin. But there is no point in creating another level of ineffective governance with the new federal district. With no army, money or specific authority at his disposal, whatever talents Khloponin has will not be enough to compensate for inadequate governance at the regional and federal levels.

Another great example of pseudo-governance is a proposal to reform the Interior Ministry by dividing its staff into the militia, the police and the national guard (formerly the riot police). Police officers have killed scores of people during Vladimir Putin’s rule. This obviously does not trouble Putin. He has never called to offer his condolences to the survivors of police brutality nor convened a special session to discuss the problem. In fact, it was Putin who created the system in which abuses by police and officials constitute the main method of governing the country, and it would be odd if he lifted a finger to dismantle it because of a few high-profile scandals. Under such conditions, all that can be done is to simulate reforms — by renaming the militia as the police.

But State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov gets the “Pseudo-Governance Award” for his proposal to solve the problem of money-losing regions by combining them with profitable regions. Russia’s current system of financial administration is based on Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin’s conviction that the federal center should take everything from the regions and then give them a pittance in return. As a result, not a single governor or mayor is motivated to encourage economic growth at home. Today, only 13 regions act as donors, and the subsidies that the other regions receive depend entirely on how skilled their financial officers are at finagling money out of Moscow. For example, in the flourishing Krasnodar region, experienced Governor Alexander Tkachev managed to secure 16 billion rubles ($532 million) in federal aid above the region’s budget of 160 billion rubles ($5.32 billion). But in the backward Volgograd region, the naive Communist and former Governor Nikolai Maksyuta for some reason confidently reported to Moscow that everything was fine and received only 1.5 billion rubles ($49.9 million) in federal aid beyond the region’s budget of 60 billion rubles ($2 billion).

It would be just as pointless to merge regions that are in the red with those that are in the black as it would be to create an “economic refuge” out of economically unviable regions from the Southern Federal District, slapping a new label on them called the North Caucasus Federal District. That would be like renaming the militia as the police.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.

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