Friday, November 21, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Needs the Volga Tatars, Giving Kazan Real Leverage, Akhmetov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 21 – Vladimir Putin rarely has been willing to retreat from any of his decisions even when they have clearly been shown to be wrong, but he has done so in the case of the office of the presidency in Tatarstan, an indication of just how important the Volga Tatars have become for him and for the future of Russia, according to Rashit Akhmetov.


            In a lead article in the current issue of “Zvezda Povolzhya,” the Kazan editor outlines three reasons for this conclusion, reasons that have implications for Putin and Russia far beyond the issue of relations between Moscow and the second largest nationality in the Russian Federation (“Zvezda Povolzhya,” no. 43 (723), 20-26.XI.14, p. 1)


            “There is no doubt that for the overwhelming majority of Tatars in Tatarstan and beyond its borders, the liquidation of the post of president,” as Putin earlier called for and has now retreated on, would be “an extremely unwelcome and unpopular decision,” one that 30, 40 or even 50 percent of the population would vote against even with Moscow’s administrative resources deployed in such a referendum.


            It is possible, indeed certain, Akhmetov says, that the FSB and other agencies have conducted polls on this and that Moscow has been informed. But even that would not have been enough to get Putin to back down. Instead, he has done so, according to the Kazan editor, to prevent the situation in Russia as a whole from deteriorating further.


            First, Akhmetov points out, the situation in the Russian Federation is so dire now that it recalls that of a century ago when in the space of three years Russia went from a time of patriotic euphoria to revolution, a path that the country could very well follow once again in the coming months and years.


            “The economic crisis could stimulate a crisis of national and regional relations in Russia,” with the slogan “Stop feeding Moscow!” gaining the support of “70 to 75 percent of the population,” he writes. Picking a fight with Kazan and the Tatars at this point could be the trigger, and consequently, Putin has backed down at least for the time being.


            Second, “Putin needs the support of the Tatars” even more directly than that.  While the Russian census counts only 5.5 million Tatars in the country, in fact, there are far more, Akhmetov says. “The Tatar world in Russia consists of 17 to 18 million people, and it concentrates around itself approximately half of the population of Russia.”


            “There are a lot of Tatars in the army,” and “the number of Muslims in Russia is growing geometrically” to the extent that “50 years from now,” there is likely to be a Muslim majority and a Muslim president.  Given that, the Tatars have an interest in the peaceful and evolutionary development of Russia: they will be the winners in that event.


            According to Akhmetov, “the Tatar question is one of the chief issues of Russia now. It can be formulated in the following way. If the Tatars support the Russian state, then it will be preserved and develop. If they don’t support it, then it will fall apart.” Putin and others in Moscow may not be able to articulate this, but they certainly feel it.


            Related to this is something else, the Kazan editor continues.  Moscow is aware and Tatarstan should be more so that “the Tatars ruled China for 200 years, and this was not called the Tatar-Mongol yoke.” Instead, the Tatars there established a powerful centralized state and even gave their own term for that state and for China’s money today, the yuan.


            As Putin turns away from the West toward China, that experience is priceless and certainly something the Kremlin leader will want to exploit, just as he has tried to use the Kazan Tatars in order to rope in the Crimean Tatars in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula over the last few months.


            Picking a fight with Tatarstan over the issue of what the head of that republic should be at a time like this is senseless.


            And third, Akhmetov says, Putin and Moscow can hardly push for the federalization of Ukraine and attack the most prominent advocate and component of federalism inside the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tatarstan. Consequently, Putin has backed down on the republic presidency, and his doing shows just how much leverage Kazan now has for other things as well.





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