Wednesday, January 17, 2018

By Defending Federalism, Is Minnikhanov Becoming a Martyr or a More Powerful Player?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Addressing the Gaidar Forum this week, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov said Moscow should not change its power-sharing relations with the regions for five years, an appeal some say sets the stage for his exit as a martyr to the cause and others view as a sign that with regard to Russian Federalism he is still very much a player.

            For the past quarter of a century, Tatarstan has often been the chief defender of federalism in Russia, first under Mintimir Shaymiyev and then under Minnikhannov. But a string of recent defeats – on its power-sharing treaty with the center, the republic’s banking system, and on language issues – have cast doubt on that role.

            Many have faulted the current Tatarstan president for failing to speak out more forcefully on all of those issues; but yesterday, he reiterated his call that Moscow leave current relations between the center and the region untouched for five years and touched off a debate on why he is saying that now ( and

            Some observers have concluded, Regnum’s Ivan Shilov says, that “the open provocation of the federal authorities may cost Minnikhanov dearly in all respects,” including leading to his loss of position; but other argue that the Tatarstan leader’s words are not out of order and that “he doesn’t intend to go anywhere.” By staking out this position, he is displaying his power.

            In his remarks, Minnikhanov said that everyone else at the meeting wants to change relations between Moscow and the regions but that he is opposed and wants things to remain “untouched” for five years to give region or republic head a chance to work and show what he or she can do.

            “Each subject,” he continued, “is capable of deciding on its powers. Are you afraid to trust them?  If this or that leader isn’t up to these tasks, change him, show your distrust. How is it possible to administer such an enormous country from Moscow? You have the leaders of the regions and it is necessary to trust them.”

            Kazan’s telegram channels are now debating what these words portend. One suggested that it is “possible” Minnikhanov hasn’t taken to heart the lessons he should have derived from his defeats over the last two years or alternatively that he knows he is on the way out and wants to do with “the halo of a martyr for the rights of the regions” by striking this position.

             But a second telegram channel says that by openly “provoking the federal authorities” with his remarks, Minnikhanov may discover that this will cost him more than he thinks. He could “lose everything” and even end up in prison as have several other former governors in recent times.

            Alternatively and more likely, this channel says, the Tatarstan president may have enough support in Moscow that he knows exactly how far he can go, presenting himself as a defender of Tatarstan and federalism without crossing a line as far as Moscow is concerned that could lead to his untimely ouster until he wants it – and then with “a soft landing.”   

            However, a third channel suggests that Minnikhanov’s words may have Moscow’s implicit blessing. By raising an issue of general concern in non-Russian areas, this channel says, the Tatarstan president is in fact helping the Kremlin achieve its chief goal now: raising interest in politics and hence raising participation in the elections.

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