Staunton, January 9 – The Tatarstan government is doing everything it can to maintain its existing attributes of state sovereignty out of the expectation that a repetition of 1991 could take place, only this time within Russia, and then Kazan would be able to become an independent state as the union republics did 25 years ago, according to Rais Suleymanov.
In the course of an interview with Voronezh’s Four Pens portal, the specialist on Islamic radicalism who has become notorious for his attacks on Muslim leaders and who is widely assumed to have close ties with the Russian security agencies, sharply criticizes both the Kazan Kremlin for pursuing that policy and the Moscow one for not opposing it (4pera.ru/~IhU8Q).
“Tatarstan,” Suleymanov says, “wants to maintain as much as possible all its attributes of a state including the title of its head because the idea of becoming an independent Tatar state and the idea of sovereignty from Russia remains not only an internal desire of the elites but a revanchist attitude.”
And “if a revolution or a Maidan takes place in Russia, about which so many people are talking and thus a repetition of 1991 only now in the form of the disintegration of Russia,, then Tatarstan will have in the views of some all the institutes of a full-blow state and thus will be in a position to go its own free way.”
Tragically, he continues, “the surprising incoherence of Moscow [on this point] will cost it very dearly in the future.” Thus, instead of enforcing Russian law in Kazan, even Vladimir Putin has said that it is up to the people of Tatarstan to decide what title their head should have in the future.
Kazan has insisted that the election of Rustam Minnikhanov as president was a referendum on his title as well, and it has pointed out that Tatarstan and Russia still have a year to run in their 10-year power-sharing treaty. Moscow has not pressed the point and seems unlikely to “at a minimum before 2017.”
That inconsistency in Moscow has led the Tatars and quite possibly three others to draw three dangerous conclusions, he suggests. First, Tatarstan’s line has allowed it to keep the presidency when all other federal subjects have given it up. Second, it shows that “federal laws operate in Russia in far from all its regions.”
And third, “the legal inequality of the regions opens the way for considering Russia a asymmetrical ethno-federation,” an arrangement that could, although Suleymanov does not say so, make it far easier for the Russian Federation to fall apart along ethnic lines just as the USSR did.
In the course of his interview, Suleymanov addresses four other issues: Moscow’s failures abroad over the past year, the Russian system’s fundamental weaknesses at home, the prospect that its Syrian campaign will be as long and dangerous as its earlier efforts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and Moscow’s increasing unpredictability which means that no allies it has left can be confident of remaining its partners in the future.
Having begun a campaign in Ukraine, Moscow failed to follow through over the last year, Suleymanov says. “The foreign policy strategy of Russia of the post-Soviet period has been the creation on its borders of a network of unrecognized or partially recognized states” it can use as leverage on its neighbors.
But it has failed to take the next step by incorporating those of these entities that want to become part of Russia. Crimea was a hopeful exception, but Moscow hasn’t done the same for South Osetia, the DNR, the LNR, and Transdnestria. The analyst says that all of these and possibly others as well “ought to be accepted as subjects of the Russian Federation.”
Suleymanov then says that over the last year, Russia “has not achieved essential breakthroughs and results.” He says he hopes for them in the coming year but notes that their absence in foreign policy has been made worse by “the serious economic crisis within the country.”
And this crisis in turn has been intensified by “the apotheosis of open corruption” among Russian elites. The Russian people will put up with sanctions, but “nothing so undermines the patriotism of citizens as illegality, the impunity, and the injustice in their own country.” That sense of injustice “is leading to a loss of faith in the government.”
With regard to Moscow’s shift from in focus from Ukraine to Syria, he says, it has become clear that now Russians are expected to worry more about “the defense of Arabs in Aleppo than Russians in the Donbas.” Doubts about this new war will only grow if Moscow has to introduce ground troops as it almost certainly will, Suleymanov says.
“The war in Syria,” he points out, “does not have the same popularity in Russia as did the war in the Donbas and in the period of the reuniting of Crimea.” There has been no celebration in Russia about the new war as there was about the old one, and many want to know why Moscow is now ignoring Ukraine and focusing on Syria.
He continues: “we have begun a war far from our borders, and it is obvious that the war in Syria will be in no way shorter than the war in Chechnya” and that it could become “a second Afghanistan,” a war that lasted ten years and without a victory. Moscow’s war in Syria could be the same, neither short nor victorious.
And Suleymanov concludes with what he says is an underlying problem in Moscow: its increasing unpredictability, something that means no foreign partner no matter how close now can count on being the same tomorrow and thus that all of these are thinking about how to protect themselves from shifts in Kremlin policies.