Sunday, December 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘No Alternative to Federalism’ in Russia, including on the Budget, Kazan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Despite what some in Moscow appear to think, there is “no alternative” in the Russian Federation to federalism and the existence of non-Russian republics, according to Shakir Yagudin, head of the Tatarstan Duma committee on legal affairs, who says that principle must be included in the republic’s strategy document for the coming years.

            Yagudin’s hardline on this point is not new, but it assumes greater importance because it comes just as Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov has complained that the republic is being held back by the unfunded liabilities that Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed on the country’s federal subjects last May.

            Given that Tatarstan has been a bellwether for attitudes about federalism and center-periphery relations in the Russian Federation, these two developments over the last week are likely to have an impact not only in the regions and republics of the country but in its capital as well.

            Yagudin’s comments came during a session of the Tatarstan State Council that was convened on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution to draw up a republic development strategy document for the period out to 2030 (

                The Tatarstan legislator said that the republic’s strategy document must include provisions concerning the strengthening of federalism and treaty relations with the federal center because “there are in practice no alternatives to federalism.”

                Russian federalism is “unique,” he said, because “it gives the chance even to small peoples and nationalities to have their own statehood and to develop according to their potential.”  Unfortunately, many in the Russian Federation have been coming up with proposals that “contradict the principles of federalism and the basic provisions of the Constitution.”

            Rewriting the Russian Constitution is not the only threat to federalism, of course; ignoring its provisions and issuing decrees without taking federal arrangements and rights are others.  And that is especially the case when Moscow imposes unfunded liabilities on the federal subjects without giving them the power to collect and retain enough taxes to pay for them.

            As the Russian economy has stagnated or even slipped into recession, leaders in Russia’s regions and republics are increasingly angry about this.  On Friday, Tatarstan President Minnikhanov bluntly told visiting Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov that Putin’s May decrees were holding Tatarstan back ( and

            The Tatarstan leader said in the Tatar-Inform republic that Putin’s decrees were “lowering the investment possibilities of the budget of Tatarstan and holding back development.” If the economy is to improve, he suggested, there will need to be a number of new decisions “including at the federal level.”

            Siluanov for his part said he had “no doubts” that Tatarstan would in fact fulfill Putin’s May decrees, but he seemed to open the door for some modification in the way these orders are to be carried out by saying that “we are translating into other regions much that is being done in Tatarstan.”

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