Monday, January 30, 2023

Tatar Leader Could have Outplayed the Kremlin by Going Abroad and Denouncing the War in Ukraine but Chose Instead to Submit, Grigoryev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 30 – Winston Churchill famously denounced the appeasers before World War II by saying they had chosen shame to avoid war but would end with both shame and war. Only slightly updated, Andrey Grigoryev says, that observation applies to Rustam Minnikhanov, elected Tatarstan president but now much reduced in power and influence.

            While most people assume Minnikhanov had no choice but to submit to Kremlin demands that republic stop calling him president and do so now rather than only at the end of his term, the IdelReal commentator says that he actually had a choice that could have brought him and Tatarstan a real victory rather than a humiliating defeat.

            Over the past month, the Tatarstan leader has lost influence in Russia, abroad and in Tatarstan itself, making his position and that of the republic he heads far less secure than it was. But if Minnikhanov had adopted a different strategy that might have been avoided, Grigoryev argues (

            The Tatarstan president could have flown abroad and denounced Putin’s war in Ukraine and the Kremlin leader’s anti-federal policies within the Russian Federation, the commentator says. Despite what many might think, this wouldn’t have been political or even physical suicide but almost certainly the best way for him to achieve what he has sought.

            “Unlike the majority of Russians forced to leave Russia at the start of the war, for Minnikhanov this wouldn’t have been a leap into the unknown,” Grigoryev says. “For more than 20 years, he has created international links and to all appearances hasn’t forgotten about them” or his partners abroad about him.

            But what is most important, the commentator says, is that any such anti-war moves by Minnikhanov would have been “met with great interest and even support.” The Kremlin would be furious but it could do little besides question the legitimacy of his election, something that would open a Pandora’s box of questions about Russian elections more generally.

            Minnikhanov certainly had the physical ability to flee, given his control of his own aircraft and the fact that it has gone abroad several times since Putin began his invasion. To be sure, the siloviki and special forces of Russia are strong, but they are not omnipotent and probably wouldn’t have been able to stop him.

              The Tatarstan leader did not choose this path and likely will now be ever more marginalized as will his republic. But if he did not choose it, perhaps other republic leaders might especially at a time when the West is increasingly signaling that it is not only open to the dismantling of Russia but to the independence of some of its component parts.

              At the very least, the risk that one or more of the leaders of Russia's regions and republics may choose to do so if Putin keeps up the pressure will give them some leverage they didn't have and cause the Kremlin to worry about what might happen if anyone followed this missed opportunity.

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