Yet perhaps more important is that the NWFD represents a multi-layered space organized on the basis of several overlapping and intermingled jurisdictions. What we see here are:
bilateral cooperative links. Some of the North-West territories are eager to foster mutual horizontal cooperation. For example, in April 2002 the governors of the Leningrad and Kaliningrad oblasts signed an agreement on cooperation in trade, commercial, and other spheres. Both provinces are interested in specific transport projects – such as building a highway from Ust’-Luga to Baltiisk.
inter-regional multilateral agreements. To a significant extent, the NWFD region building project is based on the legacy of the 1990s. It has included almost all the regions that compose the «North West» Association of Economic Interaction (except for Kirov oblast which became part of the Volga Federal District), which has been in operation for about a decade. Yet the «North West» Association (and the NWFD as well) is usually said to be an economically loose body of individual subjects of the federation, with each one pursuing its own economic strategies. Consequently, the effectiveness of inter-regional cooperation in the North West in the 1990s was rather low. As one of its officials has noted, only 5% of decisions taken together by the governors actually get implemented298.
Moscow-centric arrangements. For example, Moscow tycoons control most of the metallurgical companies in Murmansk oblast. Similarly, the military sites of Severodvinsk and Plesetsk in Arkhangelsk oblast are administered, not by regional officials, but by the federal center authorities;
Baltic, Barents, Arctic cooperation. This will be discussed in more detail in section 4;
Euroregions and other forms of cross-border interaction.
All this makes managing the district an extremely difficult task. The official structures of the NWFD seem to be rather weak and sometimes ill-designed. For example, it took about two months to select the official in charge of Kaliningrad oblast. Moreover, Andrey Stepanov, who finally got this post, was characterized as having poor experience in local affairs299. Likewise, in January 2002 President Putin appointed Mikhail Motsak, who was discharged from the Navy because of «gross mismanagement of the Kursk submarine operation», as deputy presidential representative in the NWFD300.
Analysts also note that the NWFD administration - which is led by the former high-ranking security general, Viktor V.Cherkesov – shows insufficient transparency. At least three of Cherkesov’s closest associates are from the security services as well. »Izvestia» newspaper has called Cherkesov one of most enigmatic persons surrounding the President301. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in 2001 the well reputed «Commersant-Vlast’» journal ranked Cherkesov only fourth among all seven presidential envoys in the districts, in terms of political success, intensity of changing regions’ legislation, and media coverage.
Cherkesov’s personal profile is rather controversial. For instance, he has been reported as arguing that Russian voters have lost confidence in «classical» democracy, because it has failed to provide stability and progress for the country. In his view, order and justice in Russia have always been associated with «hard authoritarian power assisted by the army and other power institutions»302. Moreover, Cherkesov assumes that «all over the world the military and law-enforcement structures are the safeguards and warrants of democracy». Reforms in Russia, in his logic, ought to be implemented only on the basis of security services support303.
Being clearly state-centric, Cherkesov has explicitly denied that the regions have a right to deal with security issues304. Furthermore, in accordance with geopolitical logic, he ranks issues pertaining to «Russian minorities» at the very top of Russia's interests in the Baltic Sea area305.
Some of Cherkesov’s public pronouncements seem to be rather inconsistent. For example, in answering a question about the relevance of his job to regional development, he mentioned that under his pressure the local authorities have changed the timetable of local trains306. This almost anecdotal reference leaves the impression of a general lack of ideas or sense of mission in Cherkesov’s administration. In fact, he himself has confessed that he feels uncomfortable as to the current uncertainty pertaining to his duties, particularly in view of the fact that the functions of presidential envoys are not constitutionally fixed307. Some contradictions in his comprehension of the NWFD's problems are also apparent. For example, having indicated that the basic problem of the district is its unevenness of socio-economic development308, he admitted soon after that his major goal is «participation in the political process»309.
Another problem is that the administrative bodies of the NWFD are weakly institutionalized. The head of the federal district lacks his own resources to influence political developments in the constituent subjects of the federation. In Peter Rutland’s opinion, some of Cherkesov’s projects could have been inspired by regional tycoons, a fact which also might put under question the state of institutionalization of the apparatus of the presidential envoy310. This opinion might possibly be confirmed by information, widely circulated in the media, that Cherkesov, in alliance with the Vologda governor, was involved in protecting local markets from competition and from the expansion of businesses coming from other regions311.
A problem of equally important scale is that relations between the district and regional authorities are predetermined by personal sympathies, and are case-dependent. Thus, in analyzing the state of political cohesion within the district, observers pay principal attention to the fact that Cherkesov has managed to establish good relations with the governors of Arkhangel’sk and Vologda oblasts, and is in conflict with the authorities of St.Petersburg, Novgorod oblast, Komi and Nenets okrug. Cherkesov’s relations with the authorities of St.Petersburg, the strongest actor in the district and a challenger of the district-building project, are especially tense.
These deficiencies and shortcomings show that Cherkesov, having no significant experience in either regionalism or public politics, badly needs expertise and analytical resources. Notably, although at the beginning he was himself rather skeptical of long-term planning312, subsequently he has nevertheless become more positive about mobilizing intellectual capital for the sake of region-building.
2. REGION-BUILDING: DISCOURSIVE SCENARIOS Having noted that the NWFD is a region-in-the-making, we should also take a look at the intellectual foundations that frame the new «horizons of meaning» and new perspectives313. The demand for ideas becomes particularly acute in situations of multiple uncertainties, which is obviously the case of the NWFD.
Several particularly important cognitive actors can be identified who are and have contributed to the intellectual spaces of the NWFD. For each, the demand for innovative ideas can be seen as having presented a golden opportunity to enter the policy area. The texts that they have produced have become »social spaces» in which two fundamental processes occur: cognition and political interaction (even tensions) between those involved. Importantly, any analysis of the texts should not be isolated from an analysis of the institutional practices within which those texts are embedded. Thus, texts are a form of social and political practice; meaning they are associated with particular policy areas and institutions314.
In «learning regions» institutions promote the diffusion of meanings, and play an active role in the selection of either normative or epistemic/cognitive understandings. Since the NWFD is a type of emerging region with a supposedly strong »learning» and/or »cognitive» background, it leaves much space for intellectual debates which are basically more about ideas and concepts than about images and metaphors.
2.1. Council on Foreign & Defense Policy (SVOP)
The SVOP has issued a number of reports dealing with Russia’s interests in the Baltic Sea and Europe’s North. Its initial ideas in the early 1990s reflected a certain state-centrism and were based on traditional geopolitical logic. Some of the major positions and conclusions of these reports can be summarised as follows:
The dreams about an emergent «common Baltic house» did not come to fruition. This was because of highly complicated relations between all three post-Soviet Baltic states and their poor (in comparison to what could have been expected at the beginning of the 1990s) economic performance;
Russia has to differentiate between two types of Baltic Sea region countries. On the one hand, Finland and Sweden are not only non-NATO countries, but also are more sensitive to Russian interests than other countries in the region. On the other hand, Denmark and Norway have to be treated as advocates of Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian membership in NATO315.
The admission of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to NATO should be seen as a direct threat to Russian security, and possibly even as preparation for an eventual encroachment on Russian interests;
The Northern Dimension initiative is too uncertain and lacks solid financial mechanisms316; the Russian strategy should be to deal directly with the EU on security and economic issues;
Russia also has to share some responsibilities with the United States for the future security and developmental arrangements in the region;
Russia has to further raise worldwide the issue of Russian minorities in the Baltic States, putting it higher in priority than issues of trans-border cooperation;
Moscow-backed Belarus has to be accepted as an important player in the Baltic area.
The SVOP’s attitudes to the problems of the Baltic are controversial and perhaps even sometimes contradictory. For example, whilst it recognizes that Russia lacks a clear immigration policy and in fact has nothing to offer its compatriots abroad, it simultaneously advises that the position of Russian expatriots should be emphasized internationally. Similarly, although the Council talks of the «crisis of Baltic cooperation», at the same time it also thinks that the existing structures should not be altered. Further, and in a way typical to pro-Kremlin experts, the Council is tired of the «illegal transportation of arms from Baltic countries to Russia», yet leaves aside the trans-border smuggling and contraband from Russia to the West. It is also quite indicative that the Council pays only cursory attention to cross-border linkages, in fact ignoring their potential317.
The SVOP’s attitudes to the expansion of the EU are also misleading. On the one hand, this think tank is positive about EU enlargement, and even assumes that it is in Russia’s interests to foster economic reforms in the three post-Soviet Baltic states in order to assist them in their application for EU membership. On the other hand, it argues that EU policies in the Baltic accession countries have led to a deterioration in their economic relations with Russia.
No less consistent are the SVOP's attitudes towards NATO. On the one hand, it treats NATO enlargement as a clear security threat for Russia. On the other hand, however, the SVOP admits that some of the regions of the NWFD might actually benefit from NATO enlargement. In particular, Leningrad and Murmansk oblasts may well become plausible alternative transport routes for Russian cargo that will no longer be transported through the Baltic States.
Meanwhile, in its later studies, the SVOP has started shifting from hard security concerns to issues of trade and commerce. As a result, a number of prescriptions advocated by the SVOP indicate that it has begun to depart from a solely state-centric platform to a more multi-actor and polycentric one. Thus:
apart from the central state, other actors – such as the military, business institutions (LUKOil), the media, and the regional administrations - might also play a role in cross-border relations318;
the institutions of »Euroregions» (especially »Neman» and »Saule») should be taken into closer account;
regarding the Kaliningrad issue, Russia needs to take advantage of the oblast’s location, and avoid its further militarization. Changing the administrative status of Kaliningrad oblast (including possible associate EU membership) is not completely ruled out. Also important is that the EU, in the SVOP's reading, has a legitimate voice in resolving the Kaliningrad »puzzle».
finally, there might be some sense in expanding the »club» of Russian sub-national actors that deal directly with Nordic issues. In particular, the Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets okrugs, as well as Taimyr, might be thought of in this regard.
There are only a few points in the SVOP's analysis that have direct relevance to the NWFD. One is the aggregation of the sea facilities of St.Petersburg, Leningrad and Kaliningrad oblasts under the auspices of Cherkesov's administration319. Another is lobbying for separate state budget financing of Russian provinces that border Northern European countries.
2.2. St. Petersburg Economic Forum
This is another potential source of expertise in sub-national policies, yet its importance for the specific needs of the NWFD is rather limited. First, in organizational terms, the Forum is not a permanently operating institution – it is rather a meeting place for different experts and top level policy makers. It is therefore practically oriented and sometimes lacks theoretical visions. Forum recommendations are formulated in an establisment-like manner, and adopt a distinctly bureaucratic language, the aim being to »approve (something)», »address» (to somebody), sollicit, etc.
Second, the federal districts are rarely mentioned in Forum documents. Advice is rather directed to the subjects of the federation. This is not very surprising, since the Forum basically reflects the aspirations and worldviews of the regional elites that are not very happy with some of Putin’s policies – including the »centralization of finances in the federal budget», which is strongly criticized in one of the Forum’s papers320. In particular, the Forum gives implicit preference to the inter-regional association of economic interactions »North West», as opposed to the federal district321.
Third, another clearly discernable focus of the Forum discourse is trans-border cooperation with CIS countries322. The articulation of this priority is a clear outcome of the lobbying of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has called for the enhancment of contacts between Russian sub-national units and the »Near Abroad». For the NWFD, however, cooperation with the CIS seems to be of less importance than relations with the Baltic and Scandinavian countries.
2.3. Expert Council on Economic Development and Investments
Taking into account the deficit of federal-level analytical resources with clear relevance for the NWFD, it was quite natural for Cherkesov to create a new institution for strategic planning to deal directly with district-level issues. The Council (ECEDI) was created to provide the office of the presidential representative with in-house expertise on the most pressing developmental issues. The ECEDI stays in close touch with most important administrative structures in the district, and first of all with the Coordination Council of the Inter-regional Association of Economic Interaction «North-West».
«The Strategy of NWFD Development» is the most important document of the ECEDI. There are several points of the Strategy that are quite revealing:
first, like SVOP documents, it is clearly state-centric. It overtly demonstrates its topical consonance with the presidential directives and federal targeted programs designed for Russia’s North West. «Strengthening national security, power vertical and Russia’s territorial integrity» is the most important marker of modernist securitizing discourse used by its authors323. The document assumes that federal interests are of prior importance to those of the members of the federation. In this interpretation, Moscow sets up strategic landmarks that are mandatory for all constituent units. Turning to the resources available for investment activities, the Strategy gives much credit to the government and the Federal Assembly, and ignores non-governmental economic, financial and industrial actors;
second, the Strategy is ostensibly socially oriented. It aims at achieving, by 2015, a certain level of well-being, social standards and human capital development. In particular, the document says that the average salary should rise to USD 500 per month, and life expectancy to 70 years.
third, the text of the Strategy repeatedly mentions the «subjects of the federation» as its main analytical unit, thereby surprisingly leaving aside the district. The only reference to district-level policies are purely administrative. For example, it is argued that a State Council of the NWFD should be created, and empowered to distribute state subsidies to the district;
fourth, the Strategy pays scant attention to the opportunities of trans-border relations. It is, therefore, more inward- rather than outward-oriented.
From the very beginning the Strategy became a part of policy debates. Sub-national leaders repeatedly attacked it and from various angles. For example, Valerii Serdiukov, the governor of Leningrad oblast, declared it resembled «Soviet-style state planning» and is not in tune with market imperatives. In contrast, Yurii Evdokimov, the Murmansk governor, criticized the document for excessive optimism324. Anatolii Efremov, the chief executive of Arkhangel’sk oblast, has suggested that the Strategy has to be better tied to the plans of the subjects of the federation. Meanwhile, Evgenii Mikhailov, the governor of Pskov oblast, expressed his reservations, since his region is «looking for even more dependency from the federal authorities»325.