Under the Russian constitution the central government retains significant authority, but regional and local governments have been given an array of powers. For example, they exercise authority over municipal property and policing, and they can impose regional taxes. Owing to a lack of assertiveness by the central government, Russia’s administrative divisions—oblasti (regions), minority republics, okruga (autonomous districts), kraya (territories), federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), and the one autonomous oblast—exerted considerable power in the initial years after the passage of the 1993 constitution. The constitution gives equal power to each of the country’s administrative divisions in the Federal Assembly. However, the power of the divisions was diluted in 2000 when seven federal districts (Central, Far East, Northwest, Siberia, Southern, Urals, and Volga), each with its own presidential envoy, were established by the central government. The envoys were given the power to implement federal law and to coordinate communication between the president and the regional governors. Legally, the envoys in federal districts had solely the power of communicating the executive guidance of the federal president. In practice, however, the guidance has served more as directives, as the president was able to use the envoys to enforce presidential authority over the regional governments.
In comparison to the federal government, regional governments generally have inadequate tax revenue to support mandatory items in their budgets, which have barely been able to cover wages for teachers and police. The budgets of regional governments also are overburdened by pensions. Legislation has further affirmed the power of the federal government over the regions. For example, the regional governors and their deputies were prohibited from representing their region in the Federation Council on the grounds that their sitting in the Federation Council violated the principle of the separation of powers; however, under a compromise, both the legislative and executive branch of each region sent a member to the Federation Council.
Legislation enacted in 2004 permitted the president to appoint the regional governors, who earlier were elected. In the first decade of the 21st century, the country began to undergo administrative change aimed at subordinating smaller okruga to neighbouring members of the federation.
Following these reforms in regional government, the new federal districts began to replace the 11 traditional economic regions, particularly for statistical purposes. The Central district unites the city of Moscow with all administrative divisions within the Central and Central Black Earth economic regions. The Northwest district combines the city of St. Petersburg with all areas in the North and Northwest regions, including Kaliningrad oblast. The Southern district includes the units of the North Caucasus economic region and the republic of Kalmykia. The Volga district merges two economic regions, Volga-Vyatka and Volga, with the exception of Kalmykia. Additionally, some administrative divisions from the Ural economic region are included in the Volga federal district. The Urals district consists of the remaining administrative divisions of the Ural economic region along with several from the West Siberia economic region. The Siberia district unites the remainder of the West Siberia economic region and all of East Siberia. Finally, the Far East district is congruent with the Far East economic region.
The constitution provides for welfare protection, access to social security, pensions, free health care, and affordable housing. The constitution also guarantees local self-governance, though national law takes precedence over regional and local laws and the constitution enumerates many areas that either are administered jointly by the regions and the central government or are the exclusive preserve of the central government. In the decade after the constitution’s enactment, the government implemented several measures to reduce the power and influence of regional governments and governors; for example, in 2000 President Vladimir Putin created seven federal districts (see discussion below) above the regional level to increase the central government’s power over the regions. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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