October 24, 2022

Russia’s Federal Subjects at War: Background and Implications

AFP / Scanpix
Russia's President Vladimir Putin meets with the governor of Belgorod region Vyacheslav Gladkov in Moscow on August 8, 2022.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin meets with the governor of Belgorod region Vyacheslav Gladkov in Moscow on August 8, 2022.

Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine is a collective enterprise involving all levels of power in Putin’s regime. From high-level officials planning at the top, to bureaucrats implementing policies at the bottom, collaboration along the hierarchy has enabled this disastrous war. One essential link in this chain are Russia’s governors. Russia’s eighty-three federal states are diverse in their administrative status, and in their cultural and economic profile, but their leaders are all part of a system that is meant to facilitate the federalisation of the Kremlin’s policies. The war is no different. What has been their role in the war? How have they facilitated Russia’s Ukraine invasion? This report describes and analyses the ways Russian governors have contributed to the war, drawing implications for policymakers.

Not all Russian governors have embraced the role of cheerleading the war, donning the ‘Z’ pro-war symbol and issuing threatening speeches like Chechnya’s governor Ramzan Kadyrov. Most have contributed to the invasion in more discreet but consequential ways. First, many governors have been traveling to Ukraine’s occupied areas and engaging in other ways of legitimising the occupation regimes. For instance, some have signed ‘agreements’ with the occupation authorities to help ‘rebuild’ their infrastructure. Second, many governors have acted as channels for material aid to these occupation regimes. Throughout the federation, governors have organised deliveries of ‘humanitarian aid’ that is handed to the occupation regimes. In the past, it has been reported that deliveries of ‘aid’ such as these end up supplying Russian troops on the frontline. Similarly, some Russian governors have sent large amounts of state money to the occupation regimes, either under the label of ‘reconstruction’ or covertly, as discreet channels for financing the occupation. Finally, governors have been repeatedly tasked by the federal government to supply manpower to the war. Since the summer ‘stealth’ mobilisation to the ‘partial’ mobilisation decree, governors have put resources into fulfilling manpower quotas set up by the Kremlin. It is through these actions that Russia’s governors are participants in the war.

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