Thursday, July 13, 2017

Russia Hurtling Toward ‘Most Serious Crisis in Nationality Relations’ Since Early 2000s

Paul Goble

                Staunton, July 13 – While most Russians are focusing on Vladimir Putin’s latest move or Aleksey Navalny’s plans or on mass repressions in Chechnya, “the Russia Federation is rushing toward the most serioius crisis in nationality relations in recent years … the problem of the status of Tatarstan,” according to Yevgeny Ikhlov (

            Too few now remember that in 1992, two republics refused to sign the Russian federation treaty, Chechnya and Tatarstan. In the case of the first, Moscow became embroiled in two vicious wars and oversaw the rise of the equally vicious current Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who remains in power thanks to his violence and Moscow’s massive subventions.

            In the case of the latter, Moscow ultimately signed a power-sharing agreement that served as a symbol of that republic’s unique status, helped keep the peace, and allowed the Volga republic to be a major donor region. The original 1994 power-sharing accord was renewed in 2007, but now the Kremlin has decided not to extend it. (For a discussion, see

            The Tatarstan power-sharing agreement is symbolically important in much the same ways the special relationships between Berlin and Bavaria and between Washington and the US state of Texas are: they symbolize the specialness of a relationship even if they do not have many other consequences, and they help keep together entities that might otherwise drift apart.

            But Vladimir Putin with his one-size-fits-all mentality and conviction that making any concession for one group or institution threatens to bring down the entire structure of the country has decided to let the accord lapse.  By doing so, he is likely to get just the kind of political earthquake that he fears.

            On the one hand, Tatars are furious. They feel betrayed. The republic establishment has already called for an extension of the treaty and demanded that what the accord allowed by extended even if no new agreement is signed in the coming weeks. Moreover, Tatar nationalism is intensifying ( and
                And on the other, all other non-Russian republics and many predominantly ethnic Russian regions as well are monitoring the situation, viewing what happens in and to Tatarstan as a bellwether of what they can expect for themselves. If Moscow insists and Kazan resists, that will not pass without consequences elsewhere.

            The most dangerous, of course, is that Tatarstan’s leadership in the name of preserving the rights to have a president and special relations with Moscow could decide to mobilize their own nationalists against Moscow, triggering ethnic conflicts in the republic and signaling to others that this may be the only way to defend the rights of republics in the age of Putin. 

            Moscow’s response would likely be brutal, but the center would have only itself to blame. A major reason that no Kazan Tatar leader has turned to the nationalists up to now is that he has a power-sharing agreement that gives him much of what he wants. If Putin takes that away as he appears to be planning, the Kazan elites may decide on a very different course.

            In an editorial today, Nezavimaya gazeta calls the power-sharing agreement a relic of “the times of the parade of sovereignties,” when Boris Yeltsin encouraged the non-Russian republics to “take as much sovereignty as you can swallow” (

                What the editors ignore, however, is that the power-sharing agreement with Kazan was one of the ways that “parade” was ended. The other involved wars in Chechnya and the rise of Kadyrov’s Moscow-funded criminal state. It is intriguing that in its drive for uniformity, the Putin regime should have failed to learn a lesson from that. 

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