Monday, December 26, 2022

Some Say Kazan’s Concessions Beginning of the End of Tatarstan, But Others that They’re Beginning of the End of Putin’s System

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 25 – Many Tatar politicians and analysts believe that Kazan has yielded so much to Moscow that the recent decisions about the constitution mark the beginning of the end of Tatarstan and its reduction to nothing more than one region among all other federal subjects ( and

            In terms of the specific concessions Kazan has made regarding its constitution, they would seem to have a compelling argument. Tatarstan now does not have many of the powers it enjoyed in the past. And that is certainly what Putin wants and equally important wants everyone in Russia to believe.

            But Anatoly Nesmiyan, who blogs under the screen name “El Murid,” argues that this focus on the trees misses the forest and that what Kazan has done is keep alive federalism as an alternative to Putin’s failed hyper-centralism, something certain to have enormous and positive consequences in the future (

            Kazan’s unwillingness to comply with Kremlin demands is not so much about titles as it is about “maintaining the existing status quo,” El Murid says. It is the last federal subject which still has retained some “remnants” of the freedoms of the early 1990s and not integrated itself into Putin’s power vertical, although it has remained loyal to the Kremlin.

            As over the last two decades, Moscow has sought to squeeze Tatarstan and force it to bow its head. But “Tatarstan has almost always outplayed the Kremlin via the apparatus at least in part because as of today, the most professional managers in Russia are precisely those from Tatarstan

            Consequently, again and again, what Kazan has been forced to yield in public, it has taken back in private, something it has been able to do precisely because it has avoided “direct confrontation” with the center. Other regions and republics have been less successful but they carefully attend to what Tatarstan has done and continues to do.

            “Relations between the Kremlin and Kazan,” El Murid continues, “are in a latent state of war.” And what Tatarstan is doing is an especial threat to Putin’s power vertical precisely because it is not as far too often many assume a threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

            What Kazan has done in the past and has done yet again now, he argues, is to defend and promote federalism and to show how wrong those are who think as some in the Kremlin do that any moves to federalization are a step to the disintegration of the country. What they are is a direct threat to the Putin power vertical now and in the future.

            “The unitary model” Putin has adopted not only doesn’t work but is “a mortal threat to the country” because “people with a 19th century psychology and the mentality of banal criminals cannot administer and develop a country in the 21st century.” Tatarstan understands that and is teaching everyone else a lesson.

            After Putin leaves the scene, there will be a great temptation to continue Putinist centralization, but “alas, this won’t work … The time of empires has passed at least for this historical stage. Now has come a time for the division of basic structures and network models of development.”

            Indeed, El Murid argues, “those who will be able to propose such a model will create a chance for development over the next 50 to 70 years and possibly even longer.” That is what Tatarstan is doing, and that matters far more than the public concessions it has been forced to make.

            “The only form of state construction which will allow for the preservation of the unity of the country and at the same time for the creation of such a model is federalism,” he says. A confederation would be an even better choice, but that is almost certainly too much for Russians given their historical record.merge

            “In this regard,” El Murid suggests, “Tatarstan is the embryo” out of which such a system can arise, one that will have no place for those now ruling in Moscow. The latter “can’t even use their current model well because of their primitiveness.” And that means no one should call what has happened in Kazan this week a defeat for Tatarstan and a victory for Moscow.

            When this finally dawns on the Kremlin, Putin and his team may react in any of a number of ways; and if they choose to ignore the obvious, that too will allow for lessons to be drawn, not only by Kazan and by other regional leaders but by those who had thought the power vertical was forever and that the only threat was territorial disintegration.

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