Tuesday, June 27, 2017

If Moscow Doesn’t Extend Power-Sharing Accord with Kazan, There Will be Problems in Tatarstan and for Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – Moscow’s Kommersant reports today that an anonomous source in the Presidential Administration says that there will not be any new power-sharing agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan and thus the present accord will be allowed to lapse.

            The paper says opposition in the Kremlin has been led by Sergey Kiriyenko, who is now in charge of domestic affairs within the Presidential Administration but who a decade ago was presidential plenipotentiary in the Volga Federal District and helped prepare the extension of the accord which was originally signed after Tatarstan (like Chechnya) refused to sign the federation treaty (kommersant.ru/doc/3336514).

            The original power-sharing accord on the delimitation of authority between the Russian Federation and Tatarstan was signed in 1994 by the two presidents of those republics, Boris Yeltsin and Mintimer Shaymiyev respectively.  It specified that the republic had the right to its own laws, taxes and citizenship.

            The revised accord, signed in 2007 for a ten-year period, reduced the powers of Tatarstan relative to the Russian Federation but allowed Kazan the right to adjust laws to its own conditions, have its own special passport inserts, and require that any president of the republic know both state languages, Russian and Tatar.

            In recent months, Tatar nationalists and Tatar leaders both past and present have pressed for the extension of the power-sharing accord, with Shaymiyev specifying repeatedly that it simply needs to be extended and does not require renegotiation as was the case with the first treaty a decade ago.

            As Kommersant acknowledges, it is still not clear that there will not be a last-minute announcement of a new treaty. (The treaty will lapse only in July.) Members of the Duma and the Federation Council the paper contacted couldn’t see for certain but indicated that the whole issue was so sensitive that no one should talk about it.

            If the treaty isn’t extended, the World Congress of Tatars will take up the issue at its congress in August; and the All-Tatar Social Center will press for more radical solutions including some kind of unilateral action by Kazan.  But the big loser will be the current president of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov.

            Not only would he likely then lose his title as president – Tatarstan is the only federal subject which still has a president, an arrangement it bases on the current power-sharing accord – but he would lose much of his standing among Tatars who see the accord, as limited as it is, as a surety of their special, even unique status within the Russian Federation.

            That may be exactly why Kiriyenko is opposed to extending the treaty. Clearly, Kommersant suggests, he does not have warm feelings for the leaders of Tatarstan as a result of the difficulties of negotiating the 2007 accord.  And now, he may be taking his revenge from his new vantage point in the Kremlin. 

            But a weakened Tatarstan may become a less stable one, with nationalists pushing for more radical measures and some in the republic government possibly seeking to exploit them against Moscow. And such instability given Tatarstan’s geographic location and influence could have serious consequences well beyond its borders.

            Up to now, most analysts have pointed to the ways in which the end of the power-sharing arrangement will mean the strengthening of Moscow and the final victory of the power vertical over regional elites.  But that may be a misreading, and one Ukrainian commentator, Sergey Ilchenko, has suggested that the end of treaty relations could lead to Tatarstan’s independence and ultimately the disintegration of the Russian Federation.

            In an article in Kyiv’s Delovaya stolitsa today, he argues that the end of the treaty arrangement could mean that “Tatarstan will not be a subject of the Rusain Federation but an independent state that has been recognized as such by Russia” by earlier treaties (dsnews.ua/world/usmirit-kazan-stanet-li-tatarstan-dlya-rossii-vtoroy-26062017220000).

                And if that is so, Ilchenko continues, Tatarstan’s geographic location and importance means in turn “the end of this [Russian] federation as a single whole.” That is, once the power-sharing treaty lapses, “no Russia in its current form exists.” Tatarstan could form its own foreign ministry, ask to join the UN or take any of a number of similar steps.

            Were it to do so – and the Ukrainian commentator clearly hopes Kazan will – such actions “could serve as the detonator of the total collapse of Russia, just as the striving of Ukraine for independence [in 1991] set in train mechanisms for the collapse of the USSR.”

            In short, he concludes, the issue of the treaty is far from dead. Neither side is going to forget what it means. And as a result, the immediate future in Tatarstan and for Russia is certain to be “interesting.”

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