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Tatarstan: Power-Sharing Deal Clears Russian Duma

  • Chloe Arnold --> Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin see eye to eye on the deal (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) MOSCOW, February 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The people of Tatarstan were in a festive mood over the weekend after Russia's State Duma approved a bill that would give their republic greater powers.

But opponents say the February 9 decision could spark dissent in other so-called ethnic republics and regions in Russia hoping for a greater degree of freedom from the Kremlin.

Special Status

If passed into law, the 10-year agreement would grants authorities in the republic special rights based on its high concentration of mostly Muslim ethnic Tatars. It would give Tatar authorities a greater say in decisions on economic, cultural, and environmental issues and calls for joint management of the republic's oil fields by federal and local authorities.

The Duma voted 360-110 in favor of the bill, which now faces approval by Russia's Federation Council. Passage would effectively ratify an agreement signed in October 2005 under which power is shared between Moscow and Kazan. The 2005 agreement was inked by the Russian and Tatar presidents after it was passed by Tatarstan's State Council.

Ferid Mukhametshin, chairman of that council, echoed the sentiments of many in Tatarstan after the legislation cleared the State Duma. "I believe that sharing power between the federal authorities and Tatarstan, on the basis of the Russian Constitution, means that we are somehow different," he said. "This is an honorable agreement for us."
Tatarstan is the only one of Russia's republics that is officially granted special status.

Tatarstan may be different, but it enjoys far less autonomy than it did 10 years ago, when several of Russia's far-flung federation subjects enjoyed autonomous or semiautonomous status. Since Vladimir Putin came to power, he has vastly reduced the power of the regions and their leaders, who are no longer elected, but appointed by the president.

Putin has also withdrawn more than 40 autonomy deals struck across Russia under the rule of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and strengthened the Kremlin's control over the regions.

Fears Of Separatism

Tatarstan is currently the only one of Russia's republics that is officially granted special status. But the power-sharing agreement is not without its critics.

Aleksei Mitrofanov, a Duma deputy from the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said the agreement is a serious mistake that would sooner or later lead to separatism.

Sergei Glotov, a deputy from the Rodina (Motherland) party, was another who voted against the bill.

"Our faction, Rodina, represents Russia's patriots, and we are opposed to this agreement," Glotov said. "We are absolutely against ratifying this agreement [into Russian law]."

There are fears that Tatarstan, a mostly Muslim republic with a population of almost 4 million, may try to secede from Russia, following the example of the Republic of Chechnya.

And there is speculation that other republics will now want to follow suit. Bashkortostan, another predominantly Muslim republic, is keen to reestablish its previous autonomy.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Moscow office of the Carnegie Center, says the question is now whether other agreements will follow the Tatarstan pact and whether Tatarstan can play the role of icebreaker, opening a path for other federation subjects to follow.

Strength In Flexibility

But supporters of the agreement say the law would stave off separatist sentiments in Tatarstan and elsewhere.

"It's enough to look at this document that we have all been discussing so fervently to see that it doesn't convey any kind of threat," said Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent Duma deputy. "Furthermore, I think it's a step in the right direction, because excessive centralization, 'verticalization,' and unification present threats of their own. And it is exactly disregard for republics and oblasts that creates the threat of separatism."

He says that a flexible approach to the regions will strengthen Russia's unity.
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