Staunton, January 17 – Just as the offices of the union republics in Moscow acquired added importance as the Soviet Union headed toward its demise, offices many informally called “embassies” which they in fact became after the republics gained independence, so too the analogous offices of non-Russian republics in Moscow now are also becoming more prominent.
Known as the permanent representations of this or that republic attached to the President of the Russian Federation, these institutions seldom have attracted much attention. Indeed, one can go for months without seeing any reference to them in the Moscow media, although they do get more coverage in republic outlets.
The last ten days, however, have been exceptional because there have been changes at the top of the permanent representations in Moscow of both Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, with the official leaving that post for a higher one in his own republic giving a major interview about what he and the Bashkir “embassy” in Moscow have been doing (idelreal.org/a/29707569.html).
Farkhad Samedov, who had been Bashkortostan’s permanent representative in Moscow since July and now has returned to serve as a new advisor to republic head Radiy Khabirov, says that his office, like those of other republics, was assuming a more active role as a result of Vladimir Putin’s new program for social development over the next six years.
But coordinating activities between Moscow and Ufa was only one of his jobs, Samedov says. He also worked to attract investments to the republic, organizing meetings between businessmen and republic officials. The permanent representative also worked with Bashkirs visiting Moscow or living there and with Moscow city, Moscow region and adjoining areas.
According to Samedov, one of his most important tasks was promoting Bashkortostan as “a brand,” by giving presentations about the republic to interested individuals and groups. He says that the office had grown to 40 employees and that he expects further growth in its size and activities in 2019.
Also this week, the president of Tatarstan appointed two new deputy permanent representatives to his republic’s Moscow office, an indication that Tatarstan’s “embassy” is also becoming larger and more important as a link between Moscow and Kazan (business-gazeta.ru/news/409382).
A little more than two years ago, Novaya gazeta offered a 4,000-word window on these institutions in the Russian Federation, which even though it was dismissive nonetheless had the effect of calling attention to the continuing and perhaps growing important of the permanent representations (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2016/11/28/70694-fasadnaya-federatsiya).
That article and the comments appended to it suggested that “from the era of the parade of sovereignties remains something rudimentary, buildings in the center [of Moscow] occupied by the permanent representatives of the regions. They have no real power or serious tasks but they do have staffs, salaries and parking places.”
But such a characterization is wrong in at least three ways: First, these institutions trace their origins not to the late 1980s but rather to the dawn of the Soviet period when they were set up to ensure communication between Moscow and the regions and republics of the country. On that, see Peter J. Potichnyj, “Permanent Representations (Postpredstva) of Union Republics in Moscow,” Review of Socialist Law, 7:1 (1981), pp. 113.-132.
Second, it ignores the consular functions these institutions perform not only for officials from regions and republics but for students from them who are enrolled in Moscow institutions as well as for people in the regions and republics who are having problems with particular Moscow institutions, including but not limited to the defense ministry.
And third, it fails to capture the symbolic and practical role these institutions played for the union republics in Gorbachev’s time when they were used by senior republic officials to reach out to foreign governments and ultimately became the foundations on which the embassies of the former Soviet republics were built.
Under the first and last Soviet president, the Moscow media had fun with the fact that the Armenian SSR used its first computer to create a dating service for ethnic Armenians in the Soviet capital so that they could more easily meet other Armenians rather than have to date anyone else.
But the media generally ignored what was perhaps the high point of the existence of these Soviet institutions: the decision of Heidar Aliyev to go to the Azerbaijani SSR permanent representation in Moscow to denounce Gorbachev’s dispatch of troops there in January 1990 (biweekly.ada.edu.az/vol_5_no_3/How_Black_January_united_Azerbaijan_changed_the_West_and_destroyed_the_USSR.htm).
These institutions are not just of historical interest, as the reports from Ufa and Kazan highlight although some in the Putin regime may want to do what even Stalin did not: closing these institutions down, perhaps fearful that their symbolism as proto-embassies for republics and regions in the Russian Federation is something he no longer wants to put up with.
Indeed, the permanent representations remain both practically and symbolically important for many regions and republics. Among the developments in the last decade that are especially worthy of note are these:
· Despite their costs, 75 percent of the federal subjects do maintain them in Moscow (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/07/window-on-eurasia-three-fourths-of.html) and when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea, that region opened its office in Moscow as well.
· The permanent representations cooperate with each other and make contact with foreign embassies as well. They have sought, so far without success, to gain official recognition for their collective activities (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/03/window-on-eurasia-regions-seek-revival.html).
· Some republics, like Daghestan and Chechnya, have opened similar offices across the Russian Federation (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2009/10/window-on-eurasia-non-russian-republics.html and windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2009/05/window-on-eurasia-daghestan-now-has-50.html).
· At least one, Tuva, has drawn on the model to open an office in Mongolia (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/03/window-on-eurasia-tuva-opens.html).
· The Adygeya representation is now teaching Circassian to Circassians in Moscow (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/07/window-on-eurasia-adygey-representation.html), and the Kalmyk one has been instrumental in expanding investment in that republic (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/05/kalmyk-mission-to-moscow-begins-to-work.html).
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