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Moscow Times
November 29, 2001
Skuratov Still Ruffles Feathers

An attempt by Buryatia's regional legislature to appoint former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov as its representative in the Federation Council has caused something of a furor. The Communist-dominated Buryat legislature first voted for Skuratov's appointment, then, following complaints about "procedural violations," swiftly changed its mind and this week voted in a more Kremlin-friendly figure.

If nothing else, the episode served to remind people that the Federation Council does still exist. The chamber has become a largely docile and obedient body, a far cry from two years ago when it openly rebelled against the Kremlin and provided a national stage for regional leaders with big ambitions.

Vladimir Putin's reforms aimed at cutting regional leaders down to size go some way to explain this change. One of the laws passed last year stripped governors of their seats in the Federation Council, replacing them with full-time delegates appointed by them. The law provides for a transition period, by the end of which all governors must quit and new senators be appointed.

This period ends Jan. 1, hence the recent flurry of activity. Estimates are that around one-third of the Federation Council still has to be replaced with full-time delegates.

So far, the new batch of senators are a mixed bunch.

There are Kremlin loyalists such as Mikhail Margelov (Pskov delegate), who previously occupied senior PR positions in the Kremlin, and Valery Goreglyad (Sakhalin), one of the favorites to take over the post of Federation Council speaker. There are several former governors and numerous "former" businessmen, the more high-profile of which being Leonid Nevzlin, formerly Mikhail Khodorkovsky's deputy at Yukos, and Valentin Zavadnikov, previously Anatoly Chubais' deputy at UES.

The Kremlin's aim is clear: to create a tame body without political heavyweights that will rubber-stamp Kremlin-backed legislation. Skuratov's appointment was clearly perceived as a major threat by Putin's staff. He revives painful memories of the upper house's open revolt against the Kremlin in 1999, when for over a year it resisted attempts by the presidential administration to engineer his removal. Also, the appointment of such an odious figure (in the eyes of the Kremlin) would make the Putin administration look weak and incapable of imposing its will on the regions.

The Kremlin may have won this particular battle, but the final composition of the upper house remains to be seen. Just as it remains to be seen how tame a body it will be if Putin loses the political initiative if his popularity rating takes a plunge.

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