Policy Memos

The Bellwether Battle for Bashkortostan (Rage Against the Machine)

Policy Memo:


Publication Date:




On December 7, 2003, Russian voters in some regions will choose not only a parliament, but also a regional leader. For many citizens, the latter contests will mean much more than the former. Nowhere is this clearer than in Bashkortostan, the seat of one of Russia’s most notorious political machines. In the eyes of many Kremlin leaders, the regime of Bashkortostan’s president, Murtaza Rakhimov, exemplifies everything that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s administration is sworn to oppose: an economy closed to big Moscow-based business, open flouting of Russian law, discrimination against Russians who do not know the Bashkir language, and even flirtation with separatism in a bargaining game for resources. Federal-level actors challenged the Bashkortostan political machine in the 1993 regional presidential elections, but lost resoundingly. Powerful Kremlin forces are now reloading for a new showdown. If Rakhimov loses, the event will herald a stunning fundamental consolidation of central power vis-à-vis the regions. If he wins, however, it will indicate that the Kremlin remains as dependent on key regional leaders as the regional leaders are on the Kremlin. [...]

About the author

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs; Co-director, PONARS Eurasia
George Washington University