Staunton, Dec. 23 – A Russian law requires that no federal subject call its head “president” after January 1, 2023. All federal subjects except Tatarstan have already fallen into line; and today, Tatarstan did but not as quickly and fully as Moscow expected – a now rare display of regional power against Putin’s hyper-centralization.
After a lively debate which recalled the heady days of the 1990s, members of Tatarstan’s State Council agreed to drop the use of the term “president” for the head of the republic but not now and not in favor of the Russian term “head” as Moscow had insisted and as all other federal subjects have done (business-gazeta.ru/article/577554).
Instead, the members of the State Council by a near unanimous vote decided that the title president would be retained by the current leader of the republic until the next election and that then the head of the republic would be styled “rais,” an Arabic term long used among the Tatars to designate the leader.
In taking a position at odds with Russian law and the clear intentions of the Kremlin leadership, the Tatarstan senators declared that they could not ignore the will of the people of Tatarstan who had elected a president and could not hold a referendum on the matter because of the current military situation the Russian Federation finds itself in.
The heated debate lasted two hours and featured numerous speakers who made it clear that they were upset about having to make even this much of a concession to Moscow’s demands. Tatarstan has given up too much, and Moscow has demanded too much, more than even Putin only a few years ago said was necessary.
But they ultimately agreed to what they see as a compromise that allows Tatarstan to retain its status as a republic and its commitment to federalism, even though it is far from clear whether Moscow will see what the State Council has done as a compromise or view it as rank insubordination.
Putin’s war in Ukraine may keep Moscow from taking even more dramatic action against Kazan – or alternatively, it may become the occasion for the Kremlin to do just that in order to gain a victory at home at a time when it is so obviously suffering defeats in Ukraine and elsewhere abroad.
For the moment, however, Kazan did not lose everything it feared it might; and Moscow did not gain everything it thought it had a right to. And so by what some view as a forced compromise, Tatarstan has retained its status as the leading advocate for federalism at a time when Moscow is doing everything it can to destroy that set of political arrangements.