The official name of Russia is Federation of Russia. Federations are normally a bunch of semi-independant federated states that have their own local laws and tax-collecting habits, but that defer their foreign relations as well as their military to a bigger federation state.

However, present day Russia is reported to make increased oppression against all kind of opposition to the Kremlin. Russia scored 3.39/10 in the democracy index in 2014, falling deep into the category of authoritarian regimes.

The principle of authoritarianism and dictatorship (a strong leadership imposes laws on everyone within the country's border) is contradictory with the principle of a federalism (each federated state has it's own laws). A best, a federation can be a federation of dictatorship states where each federated state has its own strong leadership which is independent from each-other, but I don't think such a state is viable in the long run.

So am I correct in concluding that the so called Federation of Russia is a masquerade, and that in fact the federated Oblasts (and other states with various status) have no autonomy at all when it comes to their laws, justice, executives, etc... ?

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    I think that's a somewhat simplistic view of the way authoritarian states operate. Very often, they have little effective control in the sense that you can expect from a modern well-managed state. In many places, criminal law isn't systematically enforced, police and other officials are not held to any sort of good government standards, etc. The central power therefore relies on local clients who have extensive discretion as long as they don't threaten the core interests of the ruler but does not necessarily micro-manage every aspect of life in the provinces.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 1, 2015 at 10:26
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    Also, many federal states do a lot more than foreign relations and military and some (e.g. Germany) have undergone a clear trend towards increased centralization. So unless you want to restrict yourself to very few examples (the US, possibly Switzerland), you have to allow for a broader notion of what a federation is.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 1, 2015 at 10:28
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    Do not mix authoritarianism and dictatorship. May 18, 2016 at 8:36

1 Answer 1


There are different subjects of federation in Russia: republics, krais, oblasts, one autonomous oblast and two or three federal cities.

Each of them has their own laws and elected legislatures. But, as you correctly mentioned, the head of each subject is now appointed rather than elected.

Nevertheless, this system definitely falls into federalism because, as I already said, all of them have their own laws and, more importantly, budgets. The difference between unitary and federative state is usually drawn here: there is a separate budget process in each or not.

Some of them also have different official languages and even different passport standards. For instance, the Tatarstan Passport has two pages more than the standard Russian one, with inscription in Tatar language.

In all, you should note that this centralization that you mentioned came as a response measure after some of the subjects became virtually independent, which put territorial integrity under danger. So if to count overall, many subjects of Russia have much more features of an independent state than, say, US states. They have their own culture, language, religion, predominant ethnic groups, etc.

As to the appointment of the heads, compare it with appointing the head of state of Monaco by France and head of state of Australia and Canada by the British monarch.

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    Sub-state administrative units commonly have budgets in unitary states as well, I am not aware of any major theory or definition that makes this the major criterion to differentiate federations from other states.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 1, 2015 at 10:22
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    I do not think the appointment has much to do in the democracy/authoritarian scale, it all depends on how the appointment is made. As pointed to by Relaxed, federated states having their own budget, or even their own regional languages, does not make them autonomous: It is to whether their institutions are independent from the federation.
    – Bregalad
    Jul 1, 2015 at 14:28
  • I am confused: when did France appointed Albert II or Rainier III? Did you mean head of government (although I taught the head of government was selected by the Prince among a list of candidates proposed by France).
    – Taladris
    Sep 24, 2020 at 14:32
  • Hi, do you have a source for the claim that the difference between unitary and federative state is in whether they have separate budget processes? That is news to me and I cannot find anything of the sort in a quick web search. My understanding was always that it depended on constitutional guarantee of existence, not budget process.
    – wonderbear
    Nov 22, 2022 at 19:22

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