Arctic Yearbook 2015 - Page 160

160 Arctic Yearbook 2015 1991. Under Russia’s first post-Soviet President, Boris Yeltsin, the political system underwent a process of decentralization. In some respects, decentralization was planned and managed; it was part of a broader strategy to preserve the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation during the initial transition period towards liberal democracy. The bilateral treaties negotiated between the federal and regional governments in the mid to late 1990s were evidence of efforts to hold Russia together in the face of political disintegration and prevent the country from following the same fate as its Soviet predecessor. In other respects, however, decentralization was unplanned; it was a reflection of the collapse of the centralized Soviet state, the weakness of the federal government and the rise of powerful regions. Indeed, many regional leaders took Yeltsin at his word when he said “take all the autonomy you can swallow” and the result was an epic intergovernmental struggle over political authority and economic resources (Remington 2012). Since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, the power relationship between the federal and regional governments has shifted dramatically. During the first decade of the new century, Putin introduced a series of reforms that were designed to strengthen the position of the federal government vis-à-vis the regions. These reforms, coupled with other developments such as the emergence of the national political party United Russia and the taming of the oligarchs, recentralized the Russian Federation by (re)creating the vertikal, the centralized hierarchy of political authority under the firm control of the executive branch of government (Remington 2012). It is within this shifting context that Chukotka has undergone significant political, economic and demographic change. In 1991, the region declared autonomy from Magadan Oblast, a region to which it had been administratively subordinated since 1977. This move was consistent with the autonomy declarations of many other regions in the Russian Federation. That being said, Chukotka was the only autonomous okrug to formally separate from its “host” region.1 Politically, the 1990s were dominated by the iron rule of Aleksandr Nazarov, Chukotka’s first postSoviet governor. Although the Nazarov administration faced an extremely difficult and, arguably, unprecedented economic and demographic collapse, as outlined in more detail below, it has been noted by one observer that political criticism of the government or its activities was not tolerated during his term in office (Diatchkova 2010).2 Despite the demise of Soviet communism, democracy had not yet taken root. Indeed, such authoritarian tendencies were common throughout Russia as regions and regional leaders attempted to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the centralized Soviet state. Nazarov was followed as governor in 2000 by Roman Abramovich, a powerful oligarch with close connections to both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. Abramovich served two terms as governor, during which time he transformed the economy and infrastructure of the region. It was rumoured that he invested $2.5 billion of his own money in the region and, as a result, was very popular (Jensen 2013). After 2008, Abramovich continued to play a political role in Chukotka as the speaker of the regional legislature. The current governor of Chukotka is Roman Kopin, a former advisor to both Nazarov and Abramovich, who had served as municipal leader in the region before being appointed governor in July of 2008. Kopin was reelected as governor in September 2013 with almost 80% of the vote (Noskov 2013). At the Margins