Staunton, February 13 – If Moscow extends the Russian-Tatarstan power-sharing treaty beyond its expiration date this summer, Ruslan Gorevoy says, not only will almost all the non-Russian republics demand the same but so too will many predominantly ethnic Russian ones like Kaliningrad and Primorsky kray.
And the result will “a domino effect” that will rival or even exceed the parade of sovereignties that so threatened the Russian Federation 25 years ago and that could, the Moscow commentator say, lead to the disintegration of the country in the near future (versia.ru/tatarstan-mozhet-sprovocirovat-rossijskie-regiony-na-novyj-parad-suverenitetov).
Gorevoy’s article is significant for three reasons. First, it is an indication of just how much politicking is going on behind the scenes between Moscow and Kazan over the extension of the 2007 accord that was adopted to replace one developed in the immediate aftermath of the demise of the USSR.
Second, it suggests just how nervous some in Moscow are that other non-Russian republics are watching what happens with this accord and may be preparing to demand similar arrangements if Tatarstan wins through to promote their agendas such as declaring their titular nationality the “state-forming” people of the republic.
And third, his article represents a rare but important acknowledgement by someone in Moscow that the threat of separatism and disintegration is not confined to non-Russian republics but emanates as well from predominantly Russian ones and that the latter are now likely to follow the former in pursuing greater autonomy or even independence when they can.
Gorevoy writes that everyone except people in the Kremlin understands that if you arrange dominos in a row and knock over the first one, the others will fall. And that is just what will happen, he suggests, is Moscow agrees to extend the power-sharing arrangement with Tatarstan.
At present, Tatarstan is the only republic to have such an agreement in force. Even Chechnya doesn’t have one. But that is only “for the moment,” Gorevoy says. If the Moscow-Kazan accord is extended, then not only non-Russian republics but many predominantly Russian oblasts and krays will want the same thing.
And it is all too clear just why Tatarstan wants this accord, Gorevy continues. When Vladimir Putin gave former Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev a map of 17th century Tataria, the Kremlin leader did so to make the point that Tatarstan has been an integral part of Russia for a long time.
Shaymiyev may have taken Putin’s message as intended. But back in Tatarstan, many read it “in their own way. Rafael Khakimov, vice president of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, for instance, reacted to the gift by saying that “Tatarstan today is small but at one time it was so big!”
Moreover, the former political advisor to Shaymiyev added, “Tataris is the real basis on which the Russian Empire arose.” And the presentation of this map shows that some in Moscow are beginning “finally” to recognize this reality and even to think about a future in which Tatarstan will be much more important than now.
That attitude is not new, Gorevoy says. “In August 1990, the deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the autonomous republic adopted a declaration about state sovereignty” without any agreement with Moscow and in which there was no mention of Tatarstan being a constituent part of the RSFSR or USSR.
Then in December 1991, he continues, Kazan “adopted a declaration about the inclusion of Tatarstan in the CIS as one of its creators,” an action that was followed by a referendum in which more than 60 percent of the republic’s population voted for Tatarsstan to become a self-standing subject of international law.
In March 1992, Kazan refused to sign the federative agreement of the Russian Federaiton, and in May 1992, it proclaimed Tatarstan a sovereign state. Two years later, it pulled back slightly and in 1994 signed an agreement with Russia as “an associated state with confederal status.”
Only in April 2002 did Tatarstan’s State Council adopt a new version of the republic’s constitution to bring it into line with the Russian Federation Constitution. But “nevertheless,” Gorvevoy points out, “in 2007, Moscow and Kazan extended the agreement about the delimitation of authority” between the two.
Now, ten years later, Tatarstan’s “local elites are insisting that the treaty be extended again with the preservation of the post of [republic] president and a confederal status” for the republic with the Russian Federation. But just as in the 1990s, other republic and regional elites are watching what Moscow will do.
In Boris Yeltsin’s time, after the signing of the Tatarstan treaty, more than 40 other such accords were signed with 46 Russian subjects in the ensuing four years. This “bacchanalia,” Gorevoy says, “ended when in July 1998, Vladimir Putin replaced Shakhray as deputy head of the presidential administration.”
Since then, not a single new one has been signed and except for Tatarstan all of these accords have either been denounced or allowed to lapse. Russian officials in 2007 explained their willingness to extend the accord with Kazan by saying they didn’t want to make any dramatic moves. But the real reason was to avoid problems before a presidential election.
In the years since, however, Moscow has comforted itself with the idea that “the problem of regional separatism on the whole has exhausted itself” and that it can ignore this threat. But that is a mistake, the Moscow commentator says, as events in Sakha, Buryatia, and Kaliningrad among others show.
The Sakha Republic has declared the titular nationality there as the indigenous people. Buryatia has been bubbling with nationalist aspirations. And Kaliningrad has become a hotbed of regionalist and secessionist sentiment. But instead of taking a tough line, Moscow has made concessions, as in Buryatia by putting an ethnic Buryat in as republic head last week.
That makes Moscow’s decision on the Tatarstan treaty especially important because if it prolongs the accord, Gorevoy says, other non-Russian republics and then Russian regions will line up to demand the same. And if that happens, the dominos will start falling, something the center could avoid by taking a hard line now.