Russia's governors reluctantly accept Putin curbs on power

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The Independent Online

A political crisis was averted in Russia when regional governors voted yesterday to accept the loss of some of their powers rather than provoke a confrontation with President Vladimir Putin. They also approved a new tax code, which is vitally important if the country is to attract foreign investment.

A political crisis was averted in Russia when regional governors voted yesterday to accept the loss of some of their powers rather than provoke a confrontation with President Vladimir Putin. They also approved a new tax code, which is vitally important if the country is to attract foreign investment.

The governors, sitting in the Federation Council, or upper chamber of parliament, voted by 119 to 18 for their own retirement as national senators in a reform intended to make them work more effectively in their regions. Had they not done so, Mr Putin might have found himself in a stand-off similar to former president Boris Yeltsin's conflict with parliament in 1993.

Nikolai Fyodorov, governor of Chuvashia, summed up his colleagues' unhappiness at the reform when he said: "The atmosphere in our society is such that the will of the emperor, or that of the President, is tantamount to law. A Kremlin official's position is more important than the Federation Council's constitutional position."

The President, who has promised order and equal conditions for all after a decade of anarchy, disliked the governors being simultaneously legislators at national level and executors on their own territories, where they often flouted federal law. From now on, the governors must concentrate on their own patches and will be liable if they fail to uphold national law.

Mr Putin, who has been fighting not only the governors but also Russia's business moguls, now needs to subdue these "oligarchs". So far, he has been using the tax police to frighten the tycoons who made fortunes in the Yeltsin era, but tomorrow he will meet top businessmen at the Kremlin in an attempt to persuade them of the need for self-regulation.

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