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Tatarstan: Moscow, Kazan Agree To Share Power -- Again

  • Julie Corwin --> Tatarstan's congress (RFE/RL) Last week, Tatarstan's legislative assembly, the State Council, approved a new draft power-sharing treaty between the republic and the Russian Federation. Tatarstan is unique among Russian regions because of its continuing emphasis on a 1994 power-sharing treaty.

Such treaties were among the first casualties of President Vladimir Putin's push during his first term to strengthen "vertical power" by harmonizing Russian laws at all levels -- federal, regional, and local.

Under Putin's predecessor Boris Yeltsin a kind of asymmetrical federalism flourished, where one region could do what another could not. It was this that Putin declared that he would eradicate.

However, Tatarstan ignored the June 2002 deadline to annul treaties that violated federal legislation. It also missed a September 2001 deadline to bring Tatarstan's Constitution and laws into conformity with the Russian Constitution and federal legislation. And in another example of its independence, Tatarstan's Constitution refers to the republic as an international subject.

Special Status

When the possibility of annulling the treaties was first raised back in 2001, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev noted that unless the treaty remains in force, Tatarstan's relationship with Russia will be undefined. Like Chechnya, he said, Tatarstan did not sign the federation treaty.

Shaimiev mentioned this fact again on 29 October when the State Council considered the new agreement. The Tatar president said the 1994 power-sharing treaty was "the most important political act for [Tatarstan] and, as time has shown, for the country as a whole."

Shaimiev explained that it was necessary to amend the agreement in keeping with the July 2003 law, which provided for a two-year period to call for bringing various laws into harmony.

Of course, July 2005 has come and gone, but negotiations over the agreement may have required more time, since, according to "Izvestiya" on 31 October, they became quite heated.

According to the daily, citing an anonymous source close to talks over the agreement, Tatar officials initially wanted recognition that the republic is a "sovereign state." The officials reportedly proposed wording that the republic has "limited sovereignty" within the Russian Federation.

The presidential administration, however, opposed this language. As a result, the word "sovereignty" does not even appear in the agreement. Instead, the treaty acknowledges only that Tatarstan has "full state...power in areas outside the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation."

"Kommersant-Daily" on 31 October echoed "Izvestiya's" conclusion that the new agreement trims back some of the special status Tatarstan gained within the Russian Federation under Yeltsin. The daily suggested that the agreement appeared to limit only Tatarstan's power, not the Russian Federation's.

Saving Face

However, there were some victories for Tatarstan. Tatar residents retain the right to hold a passport that bears Tatarstan's state symbol. However, this symbol will appear only as an insert and not as part of the standard passport itself.

In the previous agreement, the president of the republic was required to know both state languages, Russian and Tatar -- a requirement that aroused some controversy. In the current draft treaty, it is "suggested" that the president of the republic knows both the Tatar and Russian languages, according to TatarInform.

The treaty also grants Tatarstan the right to establish international contacts, but only "with the agreement of the [Russian] Foreign Ministry." While Tatarstan has lost some of its status under the new draft agreement, it is perhaps important to note that it has kept the right to have a power-sharing treaty govern its relationship with Moscow.

So why is Putin, who made the "dictatorship of law" one of his rallying cries during his first term, willing to accept the new treaty? Why are his officials seeking to draft one with Chechnya? In the case of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, it is likely that political expediency is at work. In comments to "Izvestiya," Maksim Dianov, a long-time expert on Russian regional politics, noted that Tatarstan, like its neighbor Bashkortostan, are frequently "decisive" regions at election time. In the last presidential election, both Shaimiev and Murtaza Rakhimov, president of Bashkortostan, managed to produce an impressive percentage of voters in support of President Putin.

While that is only a partial explanation, a fuller answer must take into account the limited ability of the Putin regime to project its power beyond Moscow.

Putin has, at times, imposed a new governor on regions, but usually in cases where the local elite was divided and could not present a united opposition. In Tatarstan, the politically astute Shaimiev has ruled for over a decade, maintaining political stability and a steady flow of tax revenues to federal coffers.

It is perhaps not a stretch to conclude that Moscow needs Shaimiev as much, if not more, than he needs Moscow. Denying Kazan a power-sharing treaty without at least some face-saving features would undermine Shaimiev. While the Putin regime is no doubt stronger than Yeltsin's, it is a mistake to confuse its desire to control the regions with its capability.