Monday, February 1, 2016

Five Possible Scenarios for Resolution of Dispute over Presidency in Tatarstan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 1 – One issue that has been bubbling just below the surface for the last two months in Russia is the fate of the office of the presidency of the Republic of Tatarstan.  Russian law required that Kazan abolish this title as of January 1, although Vladimir Putin has said that it is up to the people of Tatarstan to decide.

            For the last 31 days, Tatarstan has remained in violation of the Russian law, a situation that has become more critical both because Kazan has refused to break with Turkey as Moscow has demanded and perhaps even more important because other non-Russian republics are watching to see what happens there as a measure of where federalism in Russia may be heading.

            At present, no one knows exactly how this conflict will play out, but the editors of Kazan’s Business Online portal have suggested five possible scenarios, and officials and activists in Kazan, Moscow and in the non-Russian republics are watching which of these will take place ( and

            The first scenario would see both Moscow and Kazan simply kicking the issue down the road, delaying any change until the current treaty between the two on the delimitation of powers runs out in mid-2017 or until 2020 when the current term of the incumbent Tatarstan president ends.

            That would in principle require a change in both Russian legislation and Tatar legislation, unless the two are prepared to continue to live with one side in violation of the other. But at present, the Kazan resource says there are no indications that either Russian or Tatarstan legislators are preparing such bills.

            The second scenario would be one of direct confrontation. Moscow will at some point demand that Tatarstan obey, and Tatarstan will say no and appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court.  That is the direction Kazan has indicated it will go and Sergey Shakhray, one of the authors of the Russian basic law says that Kazan is in the right in this case.

            But of course under Russian conditions, that is no guarantee that Kazan will win the case. However, if Kazan is certain that it is right and refuses to budge even after a court ruling against it, Moscow’s reaction “could be still more harsh,” triggering nationalist responses not only in that Middle Volga republic but around the periphery of the Russian Federation.

            The third would involve a complete capitulation by Tatarstan.  That would end this dispute, the editors say; but “this would be a direct hit on the authority of the powers that be in the republic and whether Moscow wants this or not on the image of the federal authorities” not only there but elsewhere.

            The fourth scenario, the portal continues, would be the repeal or amendment of the federal law. “As fantastic as this outcome might seem, it would not mean a loss of face for Putin.” Not only has he said Tatarstan has the right to make the choice but “it is not unimportant” that the law in question was signed by Dmitry Medvedev not by him.

            And the fifth scenario, the one the editors call “the most difficult,” would be one in which both Moscow and Kazan would make concessions. Under its terms, Moscow would acknowledge the right of republics like Tatarstan to take such decisions; and Tatarstan would acknowledge that it has decided on its own not to have a president in these difficult times.

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