Staunton, June 5 – Vladimir Putin has more support in the predominantly Muslim republics of Tatarstan and Chechnya than he does in Orthodox Christian Moscow, a reflection of the reality that “in terms of its content, Putin’s policies are Asiatic” rather than Christian, according to Rashit Akhmetov, the editor of Kazan’s Zvezda Povolzhya.
The Russian president’s approach remains Christian “only at the level of rhetoric.” In terms of how he approaches the world and what he is doing, Akhmetov says, “putin is conducting what is essentially a Muslim policy” (Zvezda Povolzhya, no. 20 (June 5-10, 2014, p. 1).
Or to put it in terms that will be familiar to anyone who recalls the Soviet past, Putin’s approach is “Orthodox in form [but] Muslim in content.”
An underlying reason for this is that the Russian president recognizes that “Muslims in principle are in any state ‘the strongest’ supporters of statehood,” and Putin’s interest in building a state and the Eurasian Union is why he is relying on the Tatars and also on the Chechens, albeit for different things.
Another reason for Putin’s approach is his desire to use the Kazan Tatars as a bridge to the Crimean Tatars and through them to Turkey. And yet a third is the Kremlin leader’s recent turn from Europe to China. That shift in focus is already being felt by the leadership in Tatarstan.
According to Akhmetov, his republic “is gradually acquiring not only the status of an experimental Russian economic space but also becoming the eastern gates of Russia, open to China and to the Muslim world,” almost the only regions of the world where the governments are positively inclined toward Russia.
Putin clearly understands that “China not only is a completely different culture than Russia’s but that its culture is opposed to Russian culture” rather than being “complementary” in Lev Gumilyev’s sense. Thus, China’s relations with Russia will always be those of “a dragon and a rabbit.” Tatarstan can be a bridge.
In his commentary, the Kazan editor then recalls that when Tatarstan was planning its sovereignty referendum, some in Moscow urged then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin to send troops to put down the Tatars. But Yeltsin, having learned that there were several hundred thousand Tatars serving in the Russian military, rejected such ideas.
One Russian official told him, Akhmetov says, that Yeltsin called in Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and cursed him out. Invading Tatarstan, Yeltsin said, could result in “a nuclear civil war inside Russia.”
“’You are mad’” to propose such things, the Russian president said and directed that talks begin with Kazan.
That led to the cooperation that has existed between Moscow and Kazan and helps to explain why Putin has taken the next step. But that makes the recent decision by the authorities not to allow the Tatarstan Social Center (VTOTs) to mark its anniversary all the more troubling. “It is easy to destroy” relations “but it is very difficult to build them,” Akhmetov points out.
Despite that bump, he continues, Tatarstan is now in “a strategically favorable moment” and should exploit this to the fullest by pressing Putin “not to spend money on useless stadiums” for a competition that may be taken away from Russia but rather to invest in projects that would make Kazan “a Russian Boston.”
If that were to happen, and Akhmetov insists that the Tatars could realize such a project far better than some in Moscow, then, “thousands of [new] Lobachevskys will be able to find the means to restrain the Chinese.” And he cites the observation of “the Tatar Suvorov” that victory comes not to the most numerous but to the most clever.