Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Moscow and Kazan Agreed in 2000 Not to Extend Power-Sharing Accord Beyond 2017, Minchenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 12 – Yevgeny Minchenko, a well-connected political technologist in Moscow, says that the Kremlin did not this year unilaterally decide not to extend its power-sharing accord with Tatarstan, as many think, but rather acted on the basis of an agreement between Vladimir Putin and Mintimir Shaymiyev in 2000.

            “There is a certain strategic process which was launched in 2000 as a result of agreements between Vladimir Putin and Mintimir Shaymiyev,” the Moscow analyst says. It followed what both sides recognized was “the period of powerlessness at the beginning of the 1990s” (business-gazeta.ru/article/366678).

                The Soviet Union had just fallen apart, he continues, and “Russia was on the brink of disintegration. Because of that, a number of decisions were taken which were risky for the future of Russia as a single state.” Among those was the power-sharing agreement between Moscow and Kazan which delimited the functions of the two.

                Putin agreed in 2000, Minchenko says, to extend the power-sharing accord once while Shaymiyev remained in office but there was no question in the Kremlin leader’s mind that it would be extended in perpetuity “every ten years.”  Therefore, the analyst says, there was an agreement about not extending it beyond 2017.”

            This approach to Tatarstan, he continues, was part of Putin’s decision to bring all laws of the regions into correspondence with federal law so Russia would once again be a common legal space. “What we are encountering now, which some call a reduction of the status of the Tatar language and so on, in fact represents the implementation of [that] process.”

            Minchenko adds that this decision, taken in 2000, involved not only Putin and Shaymiyev but also Sergey Kiriyenko who shortly thereafter became the presidential plenipotentiary for the Volga Federal District and a man whom many Tatars now view as their enemy and as an enemy of all non-Russians.

            The Moscow analyst had hinted at this in comments to Vedomosti in July of this year (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/07/12/720651-konets-osobogo-puti), but his remarks published today represent a far more detailed and carefully timed description of the sources of the conflict between Tatarstan and Moscow.

            Assuming what Minchenko says is true, there are at least three reasons why he may have made these remarks now.  First, by shifting the blame for the end of the power-sharing treaty to Shaymiyev, he eases pressure on the incumbent Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, who has been the subject of sharp criticism from many Tatars in recent weeks.

            Second, by suggesting that Putin came up with this approach 17 years ago, Minchenko is also suggesting that the Kremlin leader has long-term plans rather than being the grand tactician many suspect him of being. Such a notion will help him gain additional support especially among ethnic Russians in the upcoming election.

            And third, Minchenko’s words, again assuming that he really does have the insider’s knowledge he claims, mean that all non-Russians and not just Tatars and all Russian regions beyond the ring road have good reason to fear that the status of their federal subjects will continue to be reduced and even abolished in Putin’s next term. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Union State of Russia and Belarus at 18 ‘a Model for Others,’ Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – When Russia and Belarus agreed in December 1999 to create a Union State, many saw that as the first step toward the restoration of the USSR. But that hasn’t happened, and now even the supporters of the Union State say it is “a model for others’ because it promotes closer integration but maintains the independent statehood of its members.

            Valentin Starichenok of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University and an expert with the Belaya Rus analytic group, says that on this 18th anniversary, there is much to celebrate and emulate although more remains to be done (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/20171211-soyuznoe-gosudarstvo-rossii-i-belarusi-stalo-primerom-dlya-drugikh-stran/).

            Perhaps the biggest achievement was the creation of an open border between the two countries, Starichenok says; perhaps the biggest disappointment was that the two did not move to a common currency but neither Alyaksandr Lukashenka nor the Belarusian people were prepared to sacrifice their independence by so doing.

            Because the two countries retain their independence, he says, there can be no question about any reduction of sovereignty, and “further integration must be realized on the basis of the good of the two states” rather than the combination of the two.  At the same time, it would be good if the Union State could adopt common symbols to be used internationally.

            Starichenok says that the media in both countries and elsewhere play up any differences of opinion between Moscow and Minsk and consistently ignore how much cooperation there really is.  And they fail to note that bilateral cooperation has proven easier than multilateral cooperation among many states.
            Consequently, he says, it is time to view the Union State on its 18th birthday as a model for relations in the post-Soviet space.  If Starichenok’s argument reflects the thinking in Moscow and Minsk, this represents a significant retreat from what many Russian imperialists hoped for and what many non-Russians still fear.

Muslims of Tatarstan Call on Moscow to Make Tatar the Second State Language of the Russian Federation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – The Council of Elders of the Muslim community of Naberezhny Chelny has sent an open letter to Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin asking that Moscow consider giving Tatar the status of a second state language of the Russian Federation (islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/43027/).

            Their action comes even as the government of Tatarstan appears to have given up the fight, not only falling in line with Putin’s demand that Tatar be studied only on a voluntary basis in the republic but also refusing for the ninth time efforts by Tatars to get permission for demonstrations in Kazan in defense of their native language.

            The Muslim elders base their argument on three grounds. First, they point out that the Tatars by number are the second largest nation in the Russian Federation. Second, they note that most Tatars live outside the borders of the Republic of Tatarstan and thus at present have few if any language rights.

            And third, the Muslim leaders note that Tatar is “unofficially the second language of international communication in the Russian Federation,” given that it is understood and even used by “Bashkirs, Kumyks, Balkars, Sakha, the Altay peoples, those from Central Asia, Azerbaijanis, Turks and others;”

            Their appeal is unlikely to gain traction in Putin’s Moscow, but their appeal, the satisfaction of which would “save [Tatar] from further discrimination, strengthen trust among the nations and peoples of the Russian Federation and strengthen patriotic education,” shows how important the language issue remains, whatever leaders in Moscow or Kazan think.

            Clearly, the fight isn’t over; and to the extent that both the Russian and Tatarstan governments act as if it is, they will only drive the issue underground where it will combine both national passions and religious ones.