Federalism and Regionalism in Contemporary Russia

Regionalization of Russian Foreign and Security Policy: Interaction between Regional Processes and the Interest of the Central State

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Regionalization of Russian Foreign and Security Policy: Interaction between Regional Processes and the Interest of the Central State

The objective of this international research project is to analyze regional dimensions of Russian foreign and security policy, an aspect of center-periphery relationship that has not yet been researched systematically. The aim of the project is to determine whether and how the central state understands the specific interests of Russian regions and to what extent regional processes have an impact on Russia’s external relations and on integration processes within the CIS space and beyond.

A main task of this project consists in establishing profiles of selected Russian regions in order to examine their international security environment and relationship to the Moscow center. In order to present a true picture of Russia’s uneven regional landscape, the regions have been carefully selected according to various criteria. Border regions and central regions, ethnic republics and oblasts and krais, poor agrarian regions and rich oil- and gas-producing regions are among the regions selected: the Tatarstan, Komi and Karelia republics, the Sverdlovsk, Kaliningrad, Pskov, Nizhnii Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Volgograd, Kursk, Belgorod, and Ryzan olasts, the Primorskii Krai, as well as the two cities of St.Petersburg and Moscow.

Apart from field research, several studies are planned to further elaborate on issues of a more general and/or theoretical character. Problems such as the regions’ place in a globalizing world, the understanding of “sovereignty” from a regional point of view, the importance of external factors for Russia’s regionalization, the impact of information and communication technology on center-periphery relations, and the role and political orientation of Russia’s regional elite will among others be the issues included.

During the course of research, close cooperation has been established with research institutions and organizations in Russia and several Western countries such as the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham, the Scottish Centre for International Security at the University of Aberdeen, the Copenhagen Peace Research Institute, the Swedish Defence Research Agency, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the Nizhnii Novgorod Linguistic State University, the Ulianovsk State Technical University, the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Ural State University, the School of International Relations at St. Petersburg State University, the Center of Geopolitical Studies at the Moscow Institute of Geography, the Faculty of History and International Relations at Volgograd State University or the Novosibirsk State Academy of Water-Transport Engineers.


  • Prof. Dr. Andreas Wenger

Regions Carp as Center Flounders

Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy

With the campaign slogan "Break Moscow's Fetters," Nizhny Novgorod mayoral candidate Dmitri Bednyakov seems to reflect the opinion of an increasing number of Russians with greater confidence in regional, rather than federal, authorities, as the latter are seen as incompetent and unreliable. (1) The present economic and political crisis has exacerbated this mistrust and has caused various regions to react with creative, if not entirely desperate, techniques for survival. The result has been an acceleration of the process of political decentralization, which has developed quietly over the last few years.

The effect of the present crisis on center-regional relations cannot be known at this early stage, but judging by the constitutional structure of the federal government and the inability of the federal authorities to provide even minimal leadership, an increase in regional autonomy is assured. Any shift in power may be permanent or of long duration for, if history is any guide, power once given--or taken--is loath to be surrendered. It is too soon to claim that centralism is dead; but for the first time in modern Russian history, significant political authority can be found in areas outside of palace, party, or president. A review of the structure of Russian federalism, the actions of the regions in response to the crisis and Moscow's abrogation of leadership, suggests that some devolution of power is occurring.

Constitutional Structure
Federalism is enshrined in the 1993 constitution in chapters 3, 5, and 8. Chapter 3, "Russian Federation," recognizes 87 subjects (states, Länder, provinces) of the federation with the status of Moscow and St. Petersburg to be determined later. (2) Article 71 enumerates the powers reserved for the federal government, Article 72 discusses powers shared by the federal government and the regional governments, (3) and Article 73, similar to the Tenth Amendment to the United States' constitution, reserves "the entire spectrum of state power" for the regions. (4)

Chapter 5, "The Federal Assembly," provides that regions will be directly represented in the upper house of the Federal Assembly, the Federation Council. Each region is given two seats in the Federation Council, but unlike the American Senate, regions do not elect representatives expressly for this purpose. Rather, Article 95 provides that "two deputies from each subject of the Federation shall be members of Federation Council: one from the representative and one from the executive body of state authority." A subsequent presidential decree defined this to mean that each region would be represented by its governor, or chief executive, and the head of its regional parliament.

The Federation Council has the potential to save the flawed system during this crisis. This is because the Federation Council is at once both central and regional, and thus embodies both levels of sovereignty within the federal system. Members of the upper house of the Russian parliament do not merely represent the interests of the regions--they are the regions. In other words, in an institutional sense, the Federation Council is less about representation than it is a caucus of regional authorities. During times of "normal" politics, the Federation Council can be a terrible burden on the governor and speakers or presidents of regional legislatures because direct regional representation is not really necessary for the day-to-day functions of government. However, during times of constitutional crisis, the regional sovereignty within the Federation Council, legitimated by a democratic process separate from the federal source whose legitimacy would then be in question, can become the "provisional" representation of the nation until the truly national institutions--the president and/or the Duma--can re-establish themselves. Most importantly, all of this is largely possible within the confines of the constitution. In fact, governors have been brought directly into the presidium of the government.

Chapter 5 provides for the election of the lower house of the Federal Assembly, but is silent as to how the members are to be elected. Article 95, Section 3 says only that the Duma shall consist of 450 members. A 1995 law on Duma elections provided that one-half of the Duma be elected by single-member constituencies and one-half by national party lists distributed by proportional representation. (5) This election method has had a significant impact on the structure of Russian political parties both inside and outside the Duma. Single-member districts undercut the ability of Duma factions and national parties to maintain party discipline. The existence of single-member electoral districts makes for lawmakers whose concerns lie more with their districts than with national party issues. In order to survive, "national" parties which are managed from Moscow must address the needs of specific regions. This too enhances regional influence in the Duma.

Chapter 8, "Local Self-Government," may be the most important section of the constitution for the development of federalism by virtue of what it omits: It does not tell the regions how to set up or run their governments. Article 130, Section 1 says that "local self-governmentŠshall ensure independent solution by the population of local issues," and Article 131, Section 1 allows "the structure of bodies of local self-government [to] be determined by the population independently." Article 132, Section 1 empowers local governments to "independently manage municipal property, form, approve, and execute the local budget, establish local taxes and levies, and ensure law and order and solve any other local issues." This seemingly simple absence of instruction forced the regions to become responsible for an entire host of post-Soviet transitional issues, as well as the more quotidian affairs of government. It also provides the regions with a broad constitutional argument for their recent actions. Thus the constitution allows the creation, perhaps unwittingly, of real centers of popular decision-making where only hollow regional administration existed before.

The inability of the federal government to implement its own laws contributes to the structural causes of increased regional autonomy. The catastrophic disarray of the Russian bureaucracy is no secret, but it seems often ignored in the debate about reform proposals. Even if meaningful reform were to be introduced in Moscow, it is a long way from the Kremlin to the regions, i.e., the average citizen's front door. (6) The reverse is also true; the representatives of regional governments often must go begging hat-in-hand to particular federal bureaucrats who have the connections to dispense the necessary help. The system is capricious, personalized, and wildly ineffective. Regional governments often must find their own way because they simply cannot trust the federal government to make good on its promises.

Another obvious case of expanding regional competence is the process of signing center-region treaties, themselves an admission of the lack of federal control after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The process began more than four years ago with the Republic of Tatarstan. Since then more than 40 other regions have signed such agreements.

Crisis and the Changing Federal Relationship
In view of the federal nature of the Russian political structure, it is hardly surprising that response to the present economic and political crisis has come in a decentralized or regional form. From regional currencies, to price caps, to trade prohibitions, the regions are struggling to feed, house, and clothe their citizens because the central government is incapable of doing so.

The crisis began with the effective devaluation of the ruble in August. This led to a partial collapse of the banking system. (7) The crisis was compounded politically with Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko's dismissal as well as Viktor Chernomyrdin's nomination and two-time rejection by the Duma, culminating in the Duma's ratification of Yevgeni Primakov's prime ministerial candidacy on 11 September.

Responses to the crisis range widely, but several trends are clear. Some, or most, regions are withdrawing from the Russian market as a whole, and some are taking control of law enforcement agencies, thereby taking control of their own borders. For instance, certain regions, such as St. Petersburg, asked banks to invest not in federal treasury bonds, but rather in regional bonds. Often those who transferred their funds to regional bonds did better than those who did not. But buyer beware: Several regions, such as Tatarstan, have defaulted on their debts. (8)

The Tatarstan case makes an important point. Much of what is presently happening is not necessarily the result of the crisis; rather, regional authorities have used the center's mess to explain the failure of local economies. Vechernyaya kazan reported that Tatarstan would have defaulted on its debts anyway, regardless of the ruble devaluation, because the money it raised was mishandled. (9) Kaliningrad Governor Leonid Gorbenko noted that "it is becoming ever more evident that power structures in the provinces are trying to 'grab' a maximum of powers that unquestionably belonged to the central administration as recently as a week agoŠ." Gorbenko goes on to claim that this is understandable because "Moscow is currently unable to control the situation in the state," (10) but another reason for the power struggle may be to lessen the chance of future financial control by Moscow. In a July interview, the speaker of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area, Sergei Sobyanin, argued that the true sources of power in the regions were not Moscow "oligarchs" or politicians but the finance ministry, since 79 out of 89 regions received federal subsidies and were therefore subject to intimidation by the ministry. (11)

Times have changed, at least temporarily. As more and more regions refuse to pay taxes or hand over central bank deposits, federal treasury employees posted in the regions are finding themselves increasingly at the mercy of regional authorities for assistance in resolving matters of business, as well as for help in day-to-day living. (12) For years, regional authorities had to beg the federal treasury for attention. Now that the tables have turned, it would be small wonder if a little retribution were not in order.

Sergei Sobyanin also noted that the "power" ministries play a significant role in intimidating the regions. According to Sobyanin, "they are engaged in collecting bags of compromising materials against regional leaders." (13) Perhaps this is one reason why many regional and local governments are setting up their own security councils, chaired by the governor or mayor and including regional and local representatives from law enforcement agencies. Duma Security Council member Vladimir Lopatin says that, with Moscow unable to pay the salaries of local law enforcement officers, they turn to local authorities who, predictably, want control over how enforcement groups operate. The regional and local officials then gain control of agencies which are technically under the exclusive purview of the federal authorities. The situation is illegal, says Lopatin, but the regions find having their own security councils is helpful for extracting more power from Moscow, (14) and possibly protecting themselves from future abuses of federal authority.

Some regions have erected trading barriers in clear contravention of the constitution. Chapter 3, Article 74, Section 1 states that "no customs frontiers, duties, levies, or any other barriers for free movement of goods, services, or financial means may be establishedŠ," but many regions are doing just that. Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiev, prevented exports of sugar and sugar beets from the republic--as well as imports of alcohol from other regions. (15) (It seems that several regions have created their own monopoly on alcohol production.) In Volgograd, governor Nikolai Maksuyuta sent the militia to prevent the shipment of 257 tons of produce and the transfer of 200 sheep from the region, and some Volgograd firms show signs of substituting local raw materials for imported resources. (16) Sakha and Kemerovo are moving to set up their own gold reserves, which could lead ultimately to their own central banks. (17)

Many regions have ceased to pay federal taxes. Although the regions that contribute most of the federal budget (Moscow, Khanty-Mansi, Yamal-Nenets, Samara, Sverdlovsk and Krasnoyarsk) are still paying, the chairman of the Federation Council, Yegor Stroev, noted that presently, the "transit of financial resources is the most difficult problem." (18) From Tomsk, to Omsk, to Irkutsk, to Kakhassiya, regions are not sending their federal tax receipts to Moscow. To illustrate the level of distrust between the regions and center, Altai Krai is refusing to send 40 million rubles, in exchange for a federal payment of 180 million rubles, because the krai believes the promised payment would not be forthcoming. (19) Better one in the hand than four and one-half in the bush. Moreover, regions are taking control of federal shares in local factories. For example, with the use of Eurobond money, the administration of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast' purchased a controlling share in many of its local companies and successfully lobbied the federal government for the transfer of federally owned company shares to them. Prime Minister Primakov recently endorsed this measure. (20)

Regions are also developing their own financial systems based largely on barter. Last year the Karpov commission reported that the country's largest companies conducted 73 percent of their business in barter and other non-monetary ways. (21) Interestingly, they paid 80 percent of the taxes owed to the federal government, but only 8 percent in cash. In the Udor District of the Komi Republic, rent and utility bills are paid with potatoes: 1 kilogram of potatoes = 2 rubles. A decree by the president of the Komi Republic, Yuri Spiridonov, provides for the settlement of debts by payments in kind. The public utility workers who were owed wages quickly snapped up the potatoes. (22) In Tatarstan, the regional government was told by Moscow that 24 local companies with federal tax arrears could pay their debt by supplying the armed forces stationed in Tatarstan with food and other consumables. (23)

Impact on Future Center-Region Relations
That the regions "circle their wagons" in slightly different ways, as their specific crises warrant, is not surprising. What is important is the possible shift in regional attitudes and the increasing permanence of crisis-born regional institutions which may challenge future attempts by Moscow to rein in the regions. If it is felt that Moscow dithers while the regions wither, there may be a regional reluctance to cooperate fully with Moscow and the regions may tend to "squirrel away" assets rather than surrender them to a central authority.

Institutional change may include: an expansion of regional financial institutions and their close association with the regional authorities; an increase in bilateral relationships, both inside and outside the federation; and the continuation of barter economy and a distrust of cash. Also evident is an increased profile for interregional association, or super-regions, (24) the leaders of which have been granted seats in the presidium of the government. The super-regions may also constitute the basis for some future administration of the economy, although the chances of that seem dim. (25)

Three things have changed permanently in Russian political culture as a result: an increase in the number and type of players in the Russian political system; the proliferation of power venues and "entry points" into the political system; and the slide from political power or authority as a singular concept to one which is increasingly plural in nature. It is often said that adversity builds character. Perhaps it will also build Russian federalism.

1 Institute for East-West Studies, Russian Regional Report, Internet Edition, 10 September 1998.

2 Presently they are recognized as full subjects of the federation, bringing the total number of regions to 89.
3 I use region as a generic reference to all administrative subjects of the federation.
4 All subsequent quotations from the Constitution of the Russian Federation are taken from the copy found at .
5 President Yel'tsin suggested changing the law so that the entire body would be elected by single-member districts, and predictably, encountered fierce resistance from the national political parties.
6 Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov pointed to his inability to overcome the opposition mounted by the entrenched bureaucracy as one of the mistakes he made while in office. See Obshchaya gazeta, 1-7 October 98; FBIS-SOV-98-287.
7 "Regional Newspapers and the Russian Crisis," The Business Development Service of the Russian National Press Institute, 16 September 1998 (New York: The Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, New York University).
8 Vechernyaya kazan, 11 September 98.
9 Ibid.
10 Kaliningradskaya pravda, 10 September 98, pp. 1-2; FBIS-SOV-98-260.
11 Argumenty i fakty, No. 30, July 98 (Signed to press 21 July 1998), p. 4; FBIS-SOV-98-203.
12 Ekspert Magazine, 14 September 98.
13 Ibid.
14 Ruskii telegraf, 21 August 98.
15 Russian Regional Report, Internet Edition, 17 September 98.
16 Volgogradskaya pravda, 15 September 98.
17 Kommersant Daily, 10 September 98.
18 ITAR-TASS, 0946 GMT, 9 September 98; FBIS-SOV-98-252.
19 Finansovie izvestiya, 15 September 98.
20 ITAR -TASS, 0923 GMT, 3 October 98; FBIS-SOV-98-276.
21 The Interdepartmental Balance Commission headed by the Deputy Director of the Federal Administration on Bankruptcy, Petyr Karpov. The commission was instructed to collect tax from major debtors. See Clifford G. Gaddy and Barry W. Ickes, "Russia's Virtual Economy," Foreign Affairs (September/October 1998); Business Week, 13 April 98.
22 Syktyvkar, Komi Republic. ITAR-TASS, 17 September 1998; nexis.
23 See footnote 8.
24 The super-regions are: Greater Volga, Greater Urals, The North Caucasus, Northwest, The Siberian Accord, Central Russia, Chernozemye (The Black Earth Region), and Far-East and Trans-Baikal.
25 ITAR-TASS, 8 September 98.

Copyright ISCIP 1998

Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have been commissioned especially
for Perspective.

Volume VI, No 3 (January-February 1996)

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The Crossroads of Russian Federalism

Moscow News

Since the system of local soviets was abolished in 1993, the power struggle between the Kremlin and the Russian provinces on one hand, and the local executive and legislative branches on the other, can be characterized as open conflict, occasionally interrupted by armed neutrality.

Issues concerning the rights of the "Federation Subjects" (Russia's 89 provinces and republics) emerged five years ago. The reasons for complicated interactions between the organs of state power are to be found in President Boris Yel'tsin's federal policy. Its direction was formulated in 1991 when the president stated that "every Subject of the Federation will try to assume as much sovereignty as it can." In a short period of time, the national-territorial entities, the republics, acquired some attributes of sovereignty after signing treaties concerning delimitation of power with the Kremlin. The republics managed to obtain agreements under which their contributions to the federal budget were lowered. As a result, 21 republics, 12 of which are subsidized by the center (e.g., 90 percent of Ingushetia's budget comes from federal subsidies, 92 percent in the case of the Adygei republic, while Komi and Karelia are subsidized to the tune of some 52 percent), were granted economic privileges at the expense of the rest of the 68 Russian territorial-administrative formations such as krais, oblasts, and okrugs .(1)

Since then, the largest Russian regions, (Sverdlovsk oblast', which is economically more powerful than the republic of Tatarstan, Leningrad Oblast', (2) Maritime and Krasnodar krais, the five regions of Siberia,(3) and Kaliningrad oblast') have embarked on a permanent struggle for economic equity with the republics. Between 1993 and 1994 the regions lost the first battle. This was a period of regional separatism, when the oblasts were trying to consolidate into republics following the Tatarstan, Chechnya, or Yakutia models. The proclamation of Ural, Siberian, and Far Eastern republics was a provocative move vis-a-vis the Kremlin. However, these amorphous entities, with a mere paper legitimacy, had a single objective -- redistribution of the federal budget.

Under these circumstances, Moscow initiated treaties on delimitation of power with individual administrative entities, marking a new stage in the struggle of krais and oblast for equal rights with the republics. In 1995 the federal government signed a treaty "On Delimitation of Power With Orenburg Oblast '." Subsequently, in January 1996, similar treaties were signed between the Kremlin and Sverdlovsk, as well as between the center and Kaliningrad. The difference in status between these oblasts and the republics was narrowed, and it was clear that the government had provided the basis for favoritism in its federal policy. The preferential treatment Orenburg and Sverdlovsk received was not accidental: Orenburg and Sverdlovsk, respectively, are Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's and President Yel'tsin's hometowns. The establishment of direct bilateral relations between the Kremlin and Sverdlovsk encouraged the Far East, Tyumen, Krasnodar, and Kuzbass to solicit for special status.

There is no doubt that certain regions should be granted prerogatives: the isolated enclave location of Kaliningrad and the territorial remoteness of the Far Eastern Maritime province dictate a different level of relations with the center than the "inner" regions. It is easier for Kaliningrad to maintain trade relations with neighboring Poland, Lithuania or Scandinavia, and it is more sensible for the Far Eastern Maritime region to trade with China, Japan, and Korea, than for either to deal with Central Russia. Tyumen is also insisting on a special status, since it provides 69 percent of Russia's oil production, but is allowed to use the profits of only one percent. Today Moscow views the signing of bilateral treaties with the leading regions as a continuation of the trend started with the republics.

Federation Council experts analyzed the treaties on delimitation of power that were signed with Yakutia and Tatarstan and concluded that, initially, the preferential treatment in taxation allowed these republics to maintain lower prices in comparison with the neighboring regions. However, as these analysts discovered, eventually such a policy resulted in the disappearance of some products and price increases of others. According to the experts, such an outcome, stimulated by the Kremlin, is resulting in a type of economic separatism. A similar tendency in Orenburg and Sverdlovsk demonstrated the futility of the federal center trying to appease the largest and most developed Subjects of the Federation. In other words, delimitation of powers in bilateral agreements inevitably entails recarving the federal budget, which is doomed to become leaner with more regions in line for a piece of the federal pie.

It is clear that the "special relations" and "bilateral agreements" between the regions and the center have only a symbolic character. The best solution, according to the former Minister on Nationality Issues, Valeri Tishkov, derives not from "special status," but from "regionalization," in other words, the unification of oblasts , krais , and republics into economic groups. For example, Bashkortostan, Sverdlovsk, Perm, Orenburg could unify into a large Ural region; the Siberian krais, oblasts and national entities into a Siberia region, etc. In proposing this model Tishkov suggests a departure from ethnic territorial entities as distinct economic areas. His idea is supported by the governors of Nizhny Novgorod (Boris Nemtsov) and Orel (Egor Stroev). However, the presidents of the ethnic republics do not welcome this idea.

The Kremlin, so far, is aiming to preserve the status quo, while giving favorite treatment to certain regions. At the same time, the central government is trying to preserve maximum control over all Federation Subjects. The roots of such a policy are seen in Moscow's interference in the balance of power between the two branches of regional power. It is clear that elections have become an effective tool for the center to manipulate the regions. According to federal law, the heads of local administrations (i.e., the governors), and the chairmen of regional parliaments, soviets, or zemstvos (4)(the representative branch) should be elected to office.

The results of such a supposedly democratic system were demonstrated on December 17, 1995, when elections to the Federal Duma coincided with gubernatorial elections in 12 Russian regions. Yel'tsin succeeded again in placing "his" people in the periphery.

The gubernatorial elections were conducted in the absence of electoral law and were based instead on a 1993 presidential edict. In 1993, under a similar edict, an experimental set of elections was conducted in nine regions. As a result, the newly elected local executives, (representing a typical Yel'tsin electorate in cities like Yekaterinburg, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk) usurped all functions of power. The distribution of power became even more uneven after the legislative functions of the local soviets were deprived of substance. In a period of two years regional legislatures gradually lost their authority, which was transferred into the hands of the governors.

These heads of administration became enamored with their widened "responsibilities," performing executive and legislative tasks at the same time. Since 1993, both chambers of the Russian parliament have considered four versions of electoral law for gubernatorial elections. Each met its demise in the Duma over the issue of defining the limits of executive power. In the contest between the branches the 17 December 1995 elections mark yet another victory for the executive. In general, the results are also to Moscow's advantage; incumbents, who were originally appointed by Yel'tsin, won in nine of the 12 regions holding gubernatorial elections. Moreover, these regions had substantially higher voter participation; with 60% to 70% turnout in regions holding simultaneous gubernatorial elections as compared to 58% to 62% in other parts of Russia. The nine incumbent victors confirm the formation of a vertical flow of power, from a powerful executive to a legislature dependent upon him.

Only three regions elected new governors; a communist in Novosibirsk and two former party apparatchiks in Tambov and Tver. This development should not be viewed as simply a restoration of the nomenklatura. Rather, it poses a more complicated problem; namely, that communists candidates were victorious in precisely those regions where the legislative branch was completely trampled by the executive. Over the last couple of years, not a single piece of legislation enacted by the regional parliament has been signed into law in Tambov and Novosibirsk.

This "cold war" between the branches illuminates a rather interesting alliance; nowadays, former CPSU obkom secretaries do not rely solely on fellow communists. They have found new partners among the motley composition of the powerless legislative branch. "Offended" and "discouraged," local legislative representatives, either Communists, members of the Congress of Russian Communities or representatives of Zhirinovsky's LDPR, nominated gubernatorial candidates in all 12 regions. A month after the elections in Tver, Novosibirsk, and Tambov, where the united opposition proved victorious, the rival branches have declared a truce.

This truce is an unwelcome development for Moscow, which has lost its levers in the periphery. The democratic parties originated in the capital and have little influence or organizational strength outside Moscow. The Communist party, on the other hand, is the only party which maintained and developed its infrastructure in the provinces. With this strategic disadvantage in mind, Moscow based the elections on a presidential edict rather than electoral law and forbade the most unreliable regions to hold elections. Such as Kuzbass, where 51 percent of the electorate voted for the Communists in the federal elections; Chita, where none of the laws of the local Duma was approved by the head of their administration; Volgograd, where the local soviet is constantly demanding the resignation of the governor; and Saratov, where the oblast ' Duma is in conflict with the city mayor. For four years all of these regions have been demanding the right to hold gubernatorial elections. If the new Duma passes legislation concerning gubernatorial elections, a return of the far left-leaning legislatures is predestined.

In this context, Yel'tsin recently stated that those regions which had been forbidden to hold elections in December would be allowed to hold gubernatorial elections this spring. Such a move would constitute a serious challenge by Moscow to the rebellious regional elites. The Kremlin is giving assurances that such elections will not be held on the basis of a presidential edict, but in accordance with a to-be-adopted new law. If such legislation is passed by the Duma and signed by the president, it would reflect Moscow's new political course toward the regions, i.e., a shift from authoritarianism to real federalism. However, this policy also reveals a paradox; more federalism will legitimize the domination of Communists in the political life of the regions.


1. Republic -- territory with a non-Russian titular nationality; Krai --large region which contains smaller ethnic territorial formations, such as okrugs; Oblast' -- administrative entity without specific ethnic characteristics; Okrug - subdivision of a krai or oblast' -- Ed.

2. Although the city of Leningrad was renamed St. Petersburg, the name of the oblast' remains unchanged. -- Ed.
3. Omsk, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Chitinsk oblasts, and Krasnodar Krai. --Ed.
4. Zemstvo -- elected district council in pre-revolutionary Russia (the name has been re-adopted today) --Ed.

Volume II, No 3 (January 1992)

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Turmoil in Russia's Mini-Empire

Georgetown University

A year ago, when Yel'tsin-leaning intellectuals criticized Gorbachev's nationalities policies by saying "if he keeps this up he'll have nothing left but Moscow," they were only half-joking. Their flippancy also revealed an underlying savvy: various national bids for sovereignty have been intertwined in the center-periphery dynamic. Given such complex interactions, each case must be examined in historical context. Even for Russia's "autonomous republics," specific legacies must be reviewed, indigenous leaders heard, and inter-republic relations assessed before generalizations can be made about whether a republic is likely to become a successful "nationalist" domino. The five mini-empire cases outlined here are in decreasing order of current secession-mindedness and turmoil.

Chechen-Ingushetia, in the incendiary North Caucasus tier, has a sad legacy as home to two of Stalin's "punished peoples," who were accused en masse of Nazism during World War II, deported to Central Asia, and then returned to a cropped territory corresponding neither to their self-defined homelands nor to the territory they had before the war. By 1989, the Chechen numbered 956,879, and the Ingush 237,438, respectively 58 percent and 13 percent of their republic's population.(1) By 1991, they were ready for divorce from each other, and the Chechen leader General Dudaev campaigned for separation from Russia. He employed the rhetoric of Islamic fundamentalism yet also advocated state secularism. Some of his "Islamic Path" followers had volunteered to fight in the 1991 Gulf War, for Iraq. Dudaev, perhaps symbolizing Russians' worst nightmares, was furthered in his polarizing cause when Yel'tsin declared a local state of emergency. After angry parliamentary debate, Yel'tsin, and the speaker of the Russian parliament, Khasbulatov, a Russified Chechen, backed down. A few Russian troops in the region were surrounded by Chechen forces and sent packing. In late 1991, the Chechen, Ingush, Kabardin, Balkar, Karachai, Cherkess, Abkhas, Ossetians and others met for their Third Congress of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus and vowed to form their own confederation of independent states.(2)

Tatarstan presents only a slightly less anti-Russian, anti-Moscow case. Like the Chechen, many Tatars are Islamic, but some are proud of a reformist tradition, Jadidism, that at the turn of the century advocated education for women and sponsored a satirical journal called Kha, Kha, Kha. When Stalin's cronies were apportioning union republics to peoples with over a million in population, the Tatars qualified, but were denied the status, perhaps a slap against their already jailed "National Communist" leader Sultan Galiev. By 1989, the Tatars numbered 6,648,760. In 1991, their activist youth staged demonstrations demanding secession from Russia and return of Tatar lands.(3) Tatars form today about 50 percent of their republic, but nearly 75 percent live outside the republic. A referendum on independence could leave them within Russia, although radicals of the Ittifak (Alliance) Party are trying to lower the percent necessary for secession to less than 50. By 1992, Tatar legislators, with republic President Shaimiev, unilaterally declared Tatarstan to be a full member of the Commonwealth.(4)

Tuva was a country, Tannu-Tuva, bordering on and analogous to Mongolia, from 1918-1944. Incorporation into Russia meant loss of some land, many resources, and much dignity. Today, Tuvans agitate for boundary changes, ecological clean-up, and far greater political autonomy, if not outright secession. Their popular front, with both moderate (accommodate Russians) and radical (leave yesterday) wings, has tried to discourage violence against the local Russians, but serious violence occurred in May-July 1990, concentrated in areas of high unemployment and recent Russian settlement. Soviet troops were brought in to quell the disturbances, angering Tuvans even further. Russian refugees, estimated at over 10,000, have been fleeing since 1989 across the high Altai mountains, although local officials beg skilled workers and professionals to stay.(5) Tuvans numbered 206,629, and were 64 percent of their republic, in 1989. They declared sovereignty as the Tuvan Socialist Republic in 1990. Their regional orientation is increasingly toward Mongolia.

Buryatia was gerrymandered in 1937. The homeland of the Mongolic Buryats, surrounding Lake Baikal, was divided into the Buryat Autonomous Republic, and the Agin and Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Okrugs, with interspersed regions considered Russian. Within the Buryat Republic, which declared sovereignty in 1990, Buryats are only 24 percent, but this percentage would rise if lands they claim were theirs. Buryats numbered 421,380 in 1989, when non-communist party politicians began quietly trying to negotiate increased economic, ecological and political rights. The Buryat national movement, represented in part by the newspaper Tolon (Sunrise), is strong and thus far not radical, with an educated liberal intelligentsia whose roots go back to pre-revolutionary times and a massive popular following. Buryat political and cultural revival has included overtures to Mongolia and a resurgence of Buddhism, publicized by a ceremonial visit of the Dalai Lama to Ulan-Ude in July 1991.(6)

The Yakut-Sakha Republic, declaring sovereignty in 1990, simultaneously signalled willingness to compromise with Russia by hyphenating their name. "Yakut" is an outsider's (Russian) name for the Sakha, who speak the farthest North Turkic language, and are neither Islamic nor Russian Orthodox. A cultural and spiritual revival that began before the Gorbachev era has led to resurgence of traditional religion and to rebirth of the Sakha language and literature. Although the Sakha occupy Siberian territory four times the size of Texas, they numbered only 381,922 in 1989, and were 33 percent of their republic population. While they too claim land (reaching to the Sea of Okhotsk) stolen from them under Stalin, this has not been the focus of ethnic politics. Rather, since 1990, a group called Sakha Omuk (the Sakha People) has led cultural, ecological and, especially, economic rights campaigns. Many Sakha, including republic president Nikolaev, reason that even if they had direct control of a mere 30 percent of their natural resources (oil, gas, gold and diamonds in abundance), they would be rich, and in a position to align themselves with Japanese, Korean and Western businessmen. Negotiations are proceeding, both with Yel'tsin's Moscow and foreign businesses. Leery of Russian-led secessionist Siberian regionalisms (which currently divide into at least three geographical parts), Sakha leaders, some from the pragmatic, reformist former communist party elite, are trying to navigate on the thin ice of Moscow and local Russian rule.(7)

In sum, political and population dislocations produced by increasing nationalisms have been considerable and painful, in both union and autonomous republics. The flow of refugees from war zones into Russia, estimated at over 1 million by 1992, creates yet another tragic pull on resources stretched thin. Yet analysts must not jump to conclusions that most of the 25 million Russians living outside Russia will want to move back to its heartland, nor that most refugees are Russian. Many refugees from violence in Central Asia and the Caucasus are non-Russians (e.g., Mesketian Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Azerbaijanis), who sometimes move to non-Russian areas (e.g., Kazakhstan) before choosing Russia. Within Russia, Russian outflow from Tuva has been the most dramatic. Several thousand Slavic peoples also have been fleeing Chechen-Ingushetia, including some Cossacks whose houses have been raided. The Slavic majority in Tatarstan, Buryatia and Yakutia has been shrinking more slowly, especially through decline of in-migration. Estimates of refugee populations in the whole of the post-Soviet deconstructivist world vary widely (from 1-7 million), and require regional and comparative analysis.(8)

In most areas of Russia, non-Russian populations, who together number over 30 million, have moved in the past decade from mildly politicized ethnic consciousness to various forms of nationalism. But this hardly means each of the over 16 autonomous republics (depending on how unilateral claims are counted) is demanding the same degree of secession as Chechen, Tatars and Tuvans. Many want better deals with Moscow, and are negotiating with Yel'tsin from an unaccustomed position of relative strength. How the Russian parliament and Yel'tsin, whose learning curve has thus far been dramatic, manage the details of this messy internal process of genuine economic and political power sharing will make an enormous difference in the transformation of Russia from a mini-empire to a relatively democratic, perhaps smaller, federal state.

"Autonomous Formations"

 "Autonomous Republics"
(Have Asserted Independence)

Other "Autonomous Republics"

 Other "Formations"

(Tatar Republic)
(Buryat Republic)
(Yakut Republic)
(Chechen-Ingush Republic)
Tuvan Republic*
Kalmyk Republic
(Bashkir Republic)


*Discussed in this article

Kabardino-Balkar Republic
Severo-Osetin Republic
Mordov Republic
Chuvash Republic
Mari Republic
Udmurt Republic
Karel' Republic
Komi Republic

Adygei Region
Gorno-Altai Region
Karachai-Cherkess Region
Khakass Region
Aginsk Buryat Region
Evrei Region
Komi-Permyatsk Region
Koryak District
Nenetsk District
Taimyr District
Ust'-Ordyn Buryat District
Khanti-Mansiy District
Chukot District
Evenki District
Yamalo-Nenetsk District

1Statistics here and below are from Natsional'ny Sostav Naseleniya SSR Moskva: Finansy i Statistika, 1991. Data and analysis are based in part on fieldwork, June-August 1991. See also Alexander Nekrich, The Punished Peoples (New York: Norton, 1978).
2 Ann Sheehy, "Power Struggle in Checheno-Ingushetia," RL/RFE Report on the USSR, November 15, 1991, pp. 20-26; Center for Democracy in the USSR Bulletin, 004, January 14, 1991; D. Mirzoev, "Dzhokhar Musaevich Dudaev," Argumenty i Fakty, 44, 1991, p. 8.
3 For example, "Tatarstan: Burlit Ploshchad' Svoboda," Pravda, October 17, 1991, p. 1. See also A. Zyubchenko et al., "O tak nazyvaemoi sultan-galievskoi kontrrevolyutsionnoi organizatsii" Izvestia TsK KPSS, No. 10, 1990, pp. 75-88; Azade-Ayse Rorlich, The Volga Tatars: A Profile in National Resilience (Stanford: Hoover, 1987).
4"Tatarstan Announces Joining Commonwealth," Moscow Radio, FBIS, December 31, 1991, p. 50.
5 Ann Sheehy, "Russians the Target of Interethnic Violence in Tuva," RL/RFE Report on the USSR, September 14, 1990, pp. 13-17; M. Ya. Zhornitskaya "Natsional'naya situatsiya v Tuvinskoi ASSR i Khakasskoi AO," Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, 1990 MS.
6 Vladimir Kornev, "Poznavaya vselenniyu: k 250 letiyu buddizma," Soyuz, No. 30, July 1991, p. 14; Urbanaeva, I. S. et al., Natsional'ny Vopros v Buryatii, Ulan-Ude: A.N., 1989. See also Caroline Humphrey, Karl Marx Collective: Economy, Society and Religion in a Siberian Collective Farm (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
7 "Deklaratsiya," Sotsialisticheskaya Yakutiya, September 28, 1990, p. 1; "Ustav Sakha Omuka," August 10, 1990, MS.; interviews with Sakha leaders, June-July 1991.
8 P. Rudeev, interview, Ekonomika i Zhizn', 26 June 1991, p. 10; L. Krasnovsky, "Russkie bezhentsy v Rossii," Narodnoe Obrazovanie, August 1990, pp. 21-23; Murray Feshbach, "Soviet Population Movements: Internal, External and Nowhere," Oxford Analytica, 1991, MS.; Klaus Segbers, "Migration and Refugee Movements from the USSR: Causes and Prospects," RL/RFE Report on the USSR, November 15, 1991, pp. 6-14.

Russian Federalism: Looking Forward from Today


by Rashid Noureev


The Russian State, for different reasons, throughout its history was traditionally oriented towards the goals of external policy (in struggle with Asian nomads, expansion of its territories, active participation in European conflicts, in attempts of building a worldwide "system of socialism"). Therefore the internal structure of power and social relationships was built in such a way, so that the state could activate huge human masses and resources for achievement of some titanic goal in short period of time. Only by the end of the XX century a fragile hope is being born that Man, his Rights and Freedom will become the supreme value of the Russian state.

Formally, Russia becomes a federal republic since the formation of the Soviet Union in 1918-1922. At that time main structural contradictions of the system were already present. These contradictions lead to the fall of gigantic empire, and to the fire of national conflicts on all post-Soviet territory nowadays (Abkhasia, Chechnya, Nagorny Karabach, Pridnestrovye, Tajikistan, and many others). Bolshevics built the state on the national territory basis in order to strengthen a weak, growing state. That meant that a territory (state) of an ethnic group became a subject of the new Federation. This principle was pursued and made absurd in the slogan "right of nation to secession", which was successfully realized in later time. In 1970's in so called Soviet republics emerged new national elites. Gradually they seized all the middle range positions in local command administrative system of the totalitarian state. On a certain stage of social and economical development (1970-80) administrative position was regarded by the officer as his private property, be it a position in executive power institution, or administration of a large industrial enterprise. The desire of regional elite leaders to make their present status lawful forced them to use ethnocratic rhetorics to justify their participation in the destruction of USSR.

These reason lead to the fact that Russia did not choose new model of federalism on the basis of rationality, based on desire to harmonize the relations of society and state on liberal and democratic principles. The process of federalization in Russia was a legal form of struggle for redistribution of power and economical resources between central and regional elites. The Federation Treaty of 1992 is the best evidence of that process. The Treaty states that subjects of Russian Federation have different status and competence to the benefit of those national republics that threatened to break away if their claims were not satisfied. Thus, the Federation Treaty was rather a political effort to cope with growing disintegration trends, than a result of a biased lawful agreement between the Federal center and the subjects. The problems are not completely solved in the Constitution of Russian Federation, accepted by national referendum, in which three principles of federation construction are stated: national state, national region and administrative region.

The Constitution (article 5) states the following principles of federalism: state integrity, unity of government system, limitation of subjects of competence and powers between the federal and regional governments, equality of subjects of federation in their relationships with federal center, equality of rights for all the nations in Russian Federation.

The Constitution of Russian Federation numbers the areas of social relationships that are subject of competence of federal government, and also those, that are subject of competence of both federal and regional governments. All the other issues, that are not mentioned in the document are the exclusive subject of competence of regional governments.

The Federal Constitution admits composition of federal laws and agreements in limitation of subjects of competence on different levels of power. However, neither the law, nor the Constitution solve the problem of correlation between these two norms. Most of federation subjects signed such an agreement with the federal center, which contents do not correspond with, and in some cases directly contradicts the Constitution. The federal center in its attempts to keep its authority and loyalty of regional governors has given more power to some regions, to the losses of the other. It can be stated, that in contemporary Russia constitutional norms are being replaced by the right of agreement.

In the field of taxation and economic policy vertical relationships are preserved.. Federal taxes prevail in the budget incomes on all levels. Most tax rate limits and tax collection bases are regulated by the federal laws. The budget system on different levels is somewhat contradictory. The issue of property on land and other resources is not solved, same as the issue of strict definition of rights and responsibilities in the usage of public property objects, and so on.

Still, despite all the problems, we hope, that by the common efforts of politicians and experts there will be developed a holistic conception of federative reform in Russia, that would include not only concrete measures in some field of social relationships (legislation, economy, national relationships), but would also aim to change the mere political and law culture of Russian citizens.



by Tatiana Vinogradova (tatiana@strateg.spb.su)


Economic Development Department

St.Petersburg Center of Humanities and Political Studies “Strategy”, Russia


Federalism in Russia is unique in many aspects. It is hard to find analogues to it in history and modern world. The attempts to copy experience of USA, Germany and other states were not successful, as did not correspond with Russia’s realities. Asymmetry, which exists in constitutional statements on federal organization of Russia, reflects the complexity and the past of the country.

Russian Federation includes 89 subjects of Federation - republics, regions (“oblasts”), lands, cities of federal meaning (Moscow and St.Petersburg), autonomous regions and autonomous districts. Republic is a national state within the Russian Federation; oblast and land is an administrative-territorial or state-territorial formation; autonomous region and district - administrative-national formation; city of federal meaning is a populated area.

Republics within Russian Federations announced their sovereignty, and these principle statements recognized by the Federal Agreement, declared in Constitutions of republics and other documents. In early 90s oblasts, lands and largest cities, proceeding from their economic potential, number of population and dimensions of territory, required to widen their rights (particularly in economy field), at least to equalize them with republics rights. The drive to change the status and get more independence was usual to autonomous regions and districts as well.

The Constitution (1993) defined the composition of Federation and the most important organizational principles, but did not complete the formation process.

We may consider Russian Federation has not an agreemental origins but constitutional-agreemental, which juridical base consists of Constitution and Federal Agreement. But Constitution and the method of its adoption partly disavowed Agreement, deprived its participants of corresponding status. For instance, it does not consider the subjects of Federation in the capacity of sovereign states, but define the objects of joint competence. The rest objects of competence are left to subjects of Federation (distribution of competence repeated the Federal Agreement). If the statements of Federal Agreement or agreements between subjects contradict the Constitution, then its statements act.

We should notice here, that the issues of legislation process are not well regulated, especially in the field of joint competence. Is it possible for federal legislator to regulate everything detailed? What should the regional legislator do when on important issue for his region the federal law has not been yet adopted? The majority of regions chose the way of adoptions of their own regulations with a perspective to make them later corresponding with federal, but how does this practice correspond with Constitution and real federalism? At last, there are no acting mechanisms of Constitution defense from breaking it by regional legislators (i.e. many regional regulations, limiting movements of capital and goods).

As far as almost three forth of subjects of Federation do not possess the status of state within Russia, and 32 of subjects are formed on the ethnical base, Russia, announced a federal formation, maintain not a little amount of constructions, habitual to unitary state.

Many politicians because of a fact that the spontaneous economic reform in Russia continues not decreasing inequality of regions but on the opposite now there are very essential differences in regional financial resources excuse this.

On the other side (as shows Prof. Leorkadia Drobizgeva, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of Russia Academy of Science), the idea of sovereignty of national republics as well as many other regions is supported of majority of native inhabitants and not only of local elite but nine tenth of respondents does not connect the idea of sovereignty with separation from Russia. From the juridical point of view the paradoxical thing would be the sovereign states which are included in the other sovereign subjects of Federation - autonomous regions and national districts within lands and oblasts.

The main way of competence distribution in the situation of absence of clear legislation remains the “beating them out” of the federal center, including the personal meetings with President of Russian Federation. However rights received in this manner concern the separate issues, they do not solve problem in complex, on the opposite, make situation more mixed.

The analysts see danger for Russia and its peoples in remaining this model. The present political sympathies or antipathies may damage enormously the economic development and neighborly relations of peoples in the country. It is necessary for Russian Federation qualitatively different approach to the distribution of competence between Federation, its subjects and local government.




by Evgeny Zakablukovsky (mail@eugenezak.com)

Assistant to the Speaker

Nizhny Novgorod Legislative Assembly, Russia


One of the main federalism development problems in the Russian Federation is the distinction of control matters and authority between the Federation and its subjects (republics, regions, autonomies). The history of our country has shown that, with the exception of autonomies which had special rights regarding language and national culture, Russia has been created and developed as a centralized unitary state. The Declaration of State Sovereignty, passed on June 12, 1990 as well as the Federative Treaty, concluded in 1992, have not only formally but also de-facto confirmed Russian political system developing according to the tenets of sovereign nationhood. The new Russia announced the federative state structure in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, passed by the plebiscite on December 12, 1993.

Articles 71 and 72 of the Russian Constitution determine the exclusive control matters of the Federation and the matters under the joint supervision of the Federation and its subjects. However, it remained indefinite, how to mark off those matters, what would be the demarcating tools. It could be expected that right after the Constitution a special act would be written which would have established the above principles and the order of their implementation. However, there was no such act hitherto. In 1994, two treaties were signed which specified a variety of issues regarding the relations between the central power and subjects of the Federation, in particular, the republics. These are treaties of the Federation with Tatarstan (October 15, 1994) and Bashkortostan (August 3, 1994). Other treaties followed immediately, for example such a document was signed with Nizhny Novgorod oblast (region) on June 8, 1996. Having become quite brisk, the practice of concluding treaties and agreements between governing institutions of the center and the subjects of the Federation produced vivid debates on whether our country is just a constitutional federation or a federation of the mixed constitutional and treaty kind. Or: what to do if such a treaty contains provisions contrary to those of the Russian Constitution. Many of the vexed problems go back to the events in the Chechnya area.

Concluding treaties on power delegation actually is not a feature 'sine qua non' of the Russian federalism development. At the same time, it may be considered necessary and useful. Such treaties are to supplement and develop the provisions vested in the Constitution, especially in cases when specific issues remain unsolved, e.g. which matters must be controlled by the center and which by a subject of the Federation. The concept of the joint control implies that both the center and a subject of the Federation should know their regulation limits. The need for agreement can also emerge when a subject of the Federation has particular natural, national, geographic and other conditions. However, all treaties should be in congruence with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. All aforesaid allows to define the Russian Federation as constitutional. The treaty with Tatarstan stands somewhat apart but this is rather an exception from the general rule.

It is hard, if even possible, to find something analogous to the Russian federalism, both in the history and among the modern state models. It does not resolve itself to the nation-state structure, what the Soviet model was like; at the same time it did not take the path of just a territorial structure, the latter common to most foreign countries. Smooth theoretical concepts, even being attractive externally, similar to the structures already approved in the West could not eliminate, not even soften the complex and contradictory processes generating crises and destabilizing Russian state structure. Russian historical traditions, its population structure and huge territory, the mentality of the nations and its geopolitical position are too essential for this country. It was necessary to build federalism in a country where the relevant parameters of the state constituents differ from each other: such as economic development, social characteristics, scientific, educational as well as cultural formation. There are 89 subjects of the Federation with more than 150 nationalities in this country. The situation in which two sovereignties are combined within a framework of one state, when the sovereignty of a federative state encompasses, covers the sovereignty of its republics, contributes to already quite a sophisticated design.

The federal act "On principles and order of distinction of control matters and authorities between governing institutions of the Russian Federation and governing institutions of the subjects of the Russian Federation" came into force on July 24, 1999. This act has got across the forms of implementation of such authorities as well as across adoption order for the federal acts regulating matters under the joint supervision of the center and the subjects of the Russian Federation. The order of conclusion of the treaties and agreements between them was also established. This document grants the right to the subjects of the Federation, when federal acts are being prepared, to influence the concept of such an act on the very first stage - by sending regional representatives (with the right of advisory vote) to the applicable committees and commissions of the Lower House of the Parliament - the State Duma. The controversies on the control matters' distinction and the delegation of authorities will be now resolved by the parties concerned during negotiations with using diverse conciliation procedures. Prior to this act, the President could have signed a treaty with a governor or a chief of republic, and the agreement was sometimes not even published in the newspapers; now all the treaties may be signed only after having passed them through the regional Legislative Assembly and through the Upper House of the Federal Parliament - the Federation Council.

The law also requires that all the branches of the state power key their legal acts according to the above Act within the period of six months. The treaties and agreements operating presently at the territory of the Russian Federation are also to be keyed according to the federal Act and the Constitution of the Russian Federation within a period of three years. The subjects of the Russian Federation should do the same with their acts within a period of one year.

As already was said, the federative structure of the Russian Federation is asymmetrical, i.e. its subjects are not uniform, thus having their particular problems. The solutions are also sometimes unique. However, the ways in which the solutions are made should be legally clear. The above mentioned Act has to determine this order, in exact conformity with provisions of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

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