Among the institutional changes brought about or instigated during Vladimir Putin's two terms in office as President of the Russian Federation (RF), the reduction of the number of federal subjects of the RF—i.e., the number of territorial–administrative 'entities' that together constitute the Russian Federation—has perhaps attracted the least attention. However, this policy of reducing the number of subjects by bringing about what is effectively a merger of two or three subjects, thereby creating new federal subjects, is worthy of attention for a number of reasons. This policy is one of the ways in which the Federation's center (re)asserts its dominant position vis-à-vis the 'constitutive parts' of the Federation, which are, indeed, treated as 'subjects' within a more unitary state format. This policy runs counter to what appears to be a trend in many other countries where 'native peoples' (or 'indigenous peoples') are accorded various forms of self rule, often within their 'home territories' ('self-government rights').This article will address the procedures being followed to bring about the reduction of the number of subjects, as well as the reasons for merging smaller subjects, in terms of the number of inhabitants, with larger ones. The possible future of the policy of subject merger will be discussed in the final part of the article. It will be argued that the reduction of the number of subjects of the Russian Federation to merely a few dozen will entail the end of Russia as a federation; by doing so, Russia will reconstitute itself as a unitary state.
In the present article, it is assumed that V.V. Putin will not have the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation changed in order to help him arrange for a prolonged stay as President of Russia after his second term expires in 2008. It is also assumed that there will be no constitutional changes as to the power and the position of the prime-minister which would allow for an immediate 'return' of V.V. Putin in another capacity, namely as prime-minister, with much the same powers as he presently holds as President. The author expects that Putin will be true to his word in that he will maintain the 1993 Constitution (with the exception of minor change), that he will show to be—to use the Russian constitutional terminology—the garant of this Constitution.Nevertheless, within the framework of the 1993 Constitution, substantial changes have been made in the ordering of the Russian state, by federal law, by other means. The subordination of the subjects of the Russian Federation to the federal center, the 'emancipation' of state-politics from party politics, the 'emancipation' of democracy itself from party-politics, the penetration of societal organizations by state institutions (upravliaemaia demokratiia or suverennaia demokratiia), and the accompanying (state-) ideological changes, which have come about especially during Putin's second term, all add up to what is expected to be a lasting legacy. Putin has not changed the 1993 Constitution; he has given it its definite reading (interpretation) as it were.