Monday, September 16, 2013

Window on Eurasia: A de Gaulle for Tatarstan?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – A reshuffling in the government of the Republic of Tatarstan that has led to the appointment of MVD Lieutenant General Asgat Safarov as head of the republic presidential apparatus has prompted “Zvezda Povolzhya” editor Rashit Akhmetov so speak of him as a potential Charles de Gaulle for that Middle Volga republic.

            In an article published yesterday, Akhmetov argues that the appointment of Yury Kamaltynov, who had been presidential chief of staff, to the position of vice prime minister, and the appointment of Safarov, the former head of the republic MVD who has been close to former republic leader Mintimir Shaymiyev, in his place is “a signal event” (

            The reasons for that conclusion, Akhmetov suggests, are to be found in Safarov’s personality and standing not only in Tatarstan but beyond its borders as well as in the current situation and aspirations of the Republic of Tatarstan for development, democracy, and sovereignty.

            An authoritative and respected figure in Tatarstan, Safarov has “create the most powerful regional interior ministry in Russia,” something that is reflected in the “not widely advertised fact” that Kazan rather than Moscow has been routinely hosting conferences of law enforcement personnel both domestically and internationally.

            Moreover, Akhmetov writes, Safarov distinguished himself in ensuring the safe and efficient conduct of the Universiade games, even though many wanted them to fail in order to embarrass Tatarstan.

            Perhaps most important, according to Akhmetov, Safarov is “one of the closest people” to Shaimiyev, someone who suppressed challenges to the former president and consequently a man whose return to the presidential apparatus represents “a return of Shaimiyev” and Shaimiyev’s approach as well.
             The new presidential chief of staff succeeded in “destroying many organized criminal groups in Tatarstan” and his book about that was a best seller, not least of all because Safarov “was not afraid to publish certain sensational and hitherto unknown details about the crimes” they were involved in.

            Safarov’s new post is unlikely to be his last or his highest, Akhmetov says. Russian President Vladimir Putin may very well ask the current republic president, Rustam Minnikhanov, to move to Moscow and head up the Russian government’s construction program in the wake of this year’s flooding.

            If that happens, then “Safarov could be appointed president of Tatarstan,” Akhmetov says.  Putin could count on him to keep Tatarstan under control and deliver support to the Russian president the support he requires.  But Safarov’s personal abilities mean that ultimately he could play an even larger role.

            Indeed, the “Zvezda Povolzhya” editor says, “General Safarov in certain ways recalls [French] General de Gaulle.”

            That is because there are forces at work that are “transforming Tatarstan de facto into a subject of international law.” Akhmetov notes that “Shaymiyev declared as his goal the conversion of Tatarstan into a European region; Minnikhanov speaks about it becoming a ‘Russian Singapore.’” And now people are talking about it becoming “like California in the US” with a Silicon Valley near Kazan.

            Safarov has a broad understanding and “the force and desire ‘to storm heaven’ in a good sense,” Akhmetov continues.  “Tatarstan must become an experimental democratic space in Russia.”  Safarov certainly recognizes this and will use his skills to promote rather than retard the course. And he knows, to use “the language of Obama,” that Tatarstan needs “a reset.”

            At the very least and regardless of what some may want, Safarov’s elevation is an indication that “there won’t be any gubernization of Tatarstan.” That is now “impossible.”  Indeed, things must rapidly move in just the opposite direction – or “a new crisis” arising from “the unjust status quo” is “inevitable,” something Safarov could either prevent or exploit.

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