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Russia: Federation Council Backs Tatarstan Power-Sharing Bill

Russian and Tatar flags on a government building in Kazan (RFE/RL) MOSCOW, July 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, today voted overwhelmingly in favor of endorsing a power-sharing agreement between Tatarstan and Moscow.

The agreement gives authorities in Tatarstan a greater say in decisions on economic, cultural, and environmental issues, and calls for joint management of the region's oil fields by federal and local authorities.

But some analysts warn that the treaty is purely symbolic, and does not give the region any real economic control.

The Federation Council voted 122 to 4 in favor of the proposed law, which was approved by parliament's lower house on July 4. It was the second time the law had been debated in the upper chamber; an earlier version of the treaty was rejected on February 21.

"The Russian Constitution is finally working... We can look forward to real federalism," Tatarstan parliament speaker Farit Mukhametshin said.

Tatarstan parliament speaker Farit Mukhametshin, who attended the Federation Council session and is one of the main proponents of the Tatarstan-Russia treaty, today told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service in a telephone interview that the approval of the treaty "shows that the Russian Constitution is finally working."

The constitution "says that relations between the federal center and the regions are regulated not only by the constitution and laws, but by special treaties as well," Mukhametshin said. "So as of now, that article is starting to work. That means we can look forward to real federalism" in Russia, he said.

Aleksandr Kynyev, the head of the regional program at the Foundation for Information Policy Development, says the agreement cements Tatarstan's status as a relatively independent region within the Russian Federation.

"The mutual relationship between the Tatar elite and the federal authorities has always enjoyed a special status, so it goes without saying that as part of the preelection campaign to choose a new president (in 2008), a symbolic concession has been made that shows that Tatarstan has a special mandate, that it is a special region and that the leaders of the country enjoy special relations with the leaders of Tatarstan," Kynyev said.

A 'Symbolic Agreement'

Tatars account for almost 4 percent of the population in Russia, and make up its second largest ethnic group, after Russians. But Kynyev warns that there is little chance of a return to the policies of the 1990s, when several regions with ethnic minorities enjoyed autonomous or semiautonomous status under President Boris Yeltsin.

"On most counts, the agreement is symbolic, because in reality the region is not granted any economic authority," Kynyev said. "Everything in the agreement is purely symbolic, for example they can insert a page into their passports that's written in Tatar, and things like that. But as for serious levers to defend the regional economy enjoyed by the regions in the 1990s, when regions signed agreements to prevent foreign investors from operating in their regions, there is nothing in the current agreement that comes even close to that."

Since Vladimir Putin came to power, he has severely curtailed the power of the regions, whose leaders are no longer elected, but appointed by the president. He has also withdrawn more than 40 autonomy deals struck under his predecessor, and strengthened the Kremlin's control over the regions. Tatarstan is currently the only Russian province officially to have special status.

The First of Many?

There is speculation that today's agreement between Moscow and Kazan could pave the way for other regions within Russia with ethnic compositions to do the same. Yevgeny Volk, head of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation, said similar agreements with Chechnya, Bashkortostan, and the Sakha Republic are likely.

"I believe it's a very strong and a very explicit signal to all these leaders, because they've always oriented themselves towards Tatarstan," Volk said. "They understand that by concluding such a treaty with the Kremlin, Tatarstan recognizes the new situation and implicitly invites them to follow the example. So I believe that certainly there will be new treaties adopted between Moscow and the local republics very soon."

But, he says, the agreements would only be signed under the Kremlin's conditions.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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