Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank you for such a quick response in gathering here today to discuss the issues of importance for the state, issues that directly concern all of us, both personally and as a group. But of course we are going to speak primarily about the interests of the state.
I have discussed to varying degrees the problems of the federal structure and the building of the so-called vertical power structure with most of those present when I visited the regions and here in Moscow. We have taken a close look at the proposals that came from the body of governors, I mean governors in the broad sense of the word, including the presidents of republics and other constituent members of the Federation. Various proposals were put forward, some extremely radical. I believe that the proposal to have the heads of regional governments appointed by the Russian President goes too far.
Yegor Stroyev: Especially on the eve of elections.
Vladimir Putin: Yes. You know, as I said, I have talked with many of those present, though not with all of you, so I might as well repeat my position and I hope you will trust me that this position is sincere. I am sure that in approaching these issues we should not proceed from personal interests, or the interests of parties or groups, but exclusively from the interests of Russia.
We are not going to be around forever. I am only beginning my term. In due course I will vacate this place just like any of those present. Sooner or later we will all leave our posts. We have a chance to leave behind us a more “coherent” Russia, more governable and structured in such a way that the decisions of state bodies are taken in a more understandable fashion and the country is run more effectively.
What I am going to tell you may provoke a discussion, may be seen as the right or not-so-right decision, but I would like to say that I am confident of one thing: whatever I say, you should not get the impression that it is being proposed for the benefit of the incumbent President. Nor will it be done for the benefit of the incumbent governors or heads of republics within Russia. I repeat, this should be done for the benefit of Russia itself. I urge you to adopt this approach, to rise above your present-day official status and to look at this matter in a statesmanlike way.
I don’t believe that appointing the heads of regions would be right. I have spoken about it publicly and I would like to repeat today: I think it would not just be wrong, it would be downright harmful.
I don’t think the decision to introduce the election procedure was timely; it was premature. Likewise, in the economy some of our decisions have also been premature. We should have been more circumspect and careful. But then of course it is always easier to have hindsight. If you ask me, I wouldn’t be in a hurry. But it has already happened and the people have got used to it. It would be wrong to deprive people of the right to elect and be elected. A certain political culture connected with the election of the heads of regions has taken shape in Russia.
Besides, we have national republics. What should we do about them? Abolish their right to elect their leaders? I think that would not be quite right; it would simply provoke a negative reaction among the people in the republics.
Likewise, it would be wrong to introduce a two-tiered system – elections in some places and appointments in others – because there should be an equal playing field.
All this suggests to me that we should not give up the institution of elected heads of regions, one of the reasons being that an elected executive is far more independent in his own mind, whatever kind of person he may be. Unfortunately, to be honest, even today there are still some people in the regions who are not noted for their sense of responsibility, especially in the North. Mr Shoigu sometimes takes weeks to locate some heads of regions – weeks! I can’t describe that as having a very diligent attitude towards their jobs. But on the whole the body of governors and republican presidents consists of very responsible people. In part, responsibility is engendered by the very nature of power, the nature of being elected, because a person always feels responsible to those who have elected him. All this has persuaded me that we should not abandon the principle of elections: that would bring more minuses than pluses.
What has been done to make this vertical power structure coherent? In fact, three main proposals are on the table. First, to change the way the Federation Council is formed. The Constitution says that the State Duma is “elected” and the Federation Council is “formed”. One can argue at length about the meaning of these terms, but they are there and they are different. “Formed from amongst the representatives,” the Constitution goes on, “of representative and executive bodies of power of the constituent members of the Federation.” It does not say that they have to be chief executives or heads of the representative government bodies.
We have mulled over this question with lawyers, and different proposals have been made. One proposal made to the State Duma and the current Federation Council is for the incumbent leaders, say, governors or presidents, to directly appoint their representative to the Federation Council, whoever that representative may be. I think that solution makes the most sense.
Some experts at the State Duma do not think it is a very good idea because it is short on legitimacy, and they suggest that the governor or president send his or her candidate to the local legislature and the local legislature vote for that candidate and thus send him or her to the Federation Council. And the local legislature itself can delegate one representative from among its members. That ensures the interests of the region and protection of those interests at the Federation Council. It also ensures that the chief executive can influence the person representing him on the Federation Council, who will be his direct appointee. That eliminates the confusion between the two branches of power, the executive and the legislative. Any governor, any president is an institution of executive power; being a member of the Federation Council, he is also a member of parliament who writes laws that he then has to implement himself. That is obviously a confusion of two branches of power.
To go back to the start of our conversation. Of course each of us tends to think in his present capacity and not in his future or past capacity. But I would like to draw your attention to what I said at the beginning: I would like you to remember that sooner or later we will leave our posts, and we should leave Russia a more coherent place when we go. I am not sure everyone will agree with me. I think opinions on this issue may vary and I don’t think that should be seen as some kind of catastrophe. I will respect all your opinions. And if anyone objects on this issue it does not mean that our relations will be spoiled from that moment on. Of course I am urging you to support my position, but if you have a different opinion and if you think you have a more viable proposal, it must be given a hearing with due respect. And let me stress in particular that it would not worsen the relations between me as the President of Russia and any region, whatever opinions you may air. I am saying this quite sincerely and frankly, especially since I already have very good personal relationships with many of you; in any case they will not be affected. That’s the first thing.
Second. There is a proposal that the President of Russia be given the right to dismiss the heads of regions.
And third, as a logical consequence of the second proposal, the regional head should have the right to dismiss the heads of lower government bodies, of municipal authorities.
We believe that this builds a more or less clear structure which is part of the federal vertical power structure: the President can be removed through the impeachment procedure, the regional head can be removed by the President and the head of the local government can be removed by the governor or president of the republic.
Then there is another law that would eliminate the lack of coordination between the actions of federal officials and local authorities. I think it is the right decision too. I know that it may meet with a mixed reaction and with criticism, but in my opinion, it would strengthen the federal government at the regional level.
This is the proposed package. It consists of four draft laws.
We have had preliminary consultations with the State Duma and the leaders of the Duma parties. They made their proposals and these proposals were taken into account. We borrowed some elements from the proposals of the governors that were submitted in written form. I repeat, we studied them all. And this is the structure that emerges. Along with the creation of federal districts and the appointment of presidential envoys to head them up, I believe that it would strengthen the Russian state.
The presidential envoys must not and will not interfere in the competence of the heads of regions. They should attend exclusively to the federal bodies in the regions, to federal functions. Many of you have told me in various situations that the federal organisations are too powerful. All this should be looked into. A lot has to be dismantled, one strong regional centre should be created so that, I repeat, there could be competent coordination within the region between these federal bodies. I repeat, they will be significantly downsized compared to what there is in the regions today, including the presidential representatives now in the regions of the Federation.
This is roughly the plan of action proposed for now.