Putin’s War in Ukraine Saves Tatarstan’s Special Status For Now

September 2, 2014
Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov. Photo: ansar.ru

Staunton, September 2 – Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has “unexpectedly” allowed Tatarstan to retain its presidency and thus “again confirm its status as a special region within Russia, ‘an exception from the rules,’ as former Federal Council speaker Sergey Mironov put it, and thus, “a bastion of federalism” within Russia, according to a Muslim commentator.

In comments to Ansar.ru, Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov says that Putin’s decision to allow Tatarstan to retain its presidency is the unexpected result of his war in Ukraine. Given that “the problems of federalization, decentralization, development and the authority of the regions in Russia is no less a problem than in Ukraine,” Putin doesn’t want to rock the boat just now.

When Moscow talks about restrictions on the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine, he continues, it is reasonable that the Russian leader should also recall that “far from everything is in order with the non-Russian and even the Russian subjects” of the Russian Federation.

Demonstrations in support of federalization in Russia have taken place in several major cities of the country in recent times, something the “anti-Putin opposition” has attempted to exploit and that the regime has effectively squelched, Mukhametov says. But that hasn’t changed the reality that “potentially, federalism is one of the most important challenges” to Moscow.

“If a wise resolution will not be found,” he continues, “it will hardly be possible to speak about the well-being” of Russia.

“De facto,” the Muslim commentator continues, “Russia is a federation today only on paper and by name. In reality, it is more a unitary state,” and Putin’s effort to eliminate republic presidents was supposed to “complete this process.” As a result, had Tatarstan given it, this would have been “the symbolic end of real federalism.”

The Ukrainian crisis has given Tatarstan a chance to save what is left of federalism at least for a time and even remain a leader of federalist forces in Russia, he says. Putin’s concession reflects the fact that neither he nor anyone else in Moscow wants to risk destabilizing the situation inside the country while it is at war with Ukraine.

But in retaining the office of presidency, Tatarstan has retained something else: at least part of the “at one time broad authorities” that it had under the terms of the corresponding agreements with Moscow and the Russian Constitution. How long that will last remains unclear given that “the general anti-federalist trend in the state is obvious.”

If and when the conflict in Ukraine comes to an end, he argues, then “the same neo-imperialist policy which is being carried out against Ukraine will “intensify” inside Russia against the Middle Volga, the North Caucasus and elsewhere.

Just now, many North Caucasians view the Ukrainian crisis as “manna from heaven” because the Russian media have ceased to attack people from that region and the level of anti-Caucasus attitudes in Russian society has declined. But Mukhametov says that in his view, such attitudes will re-emerge in “even more brutal forms” after Ukraine.

And their re-emergence will be paralleled by a re-emergence of anti-minority and anti-regional sentiment more generally. That “will threaten minorities” of all kinds, including religious ones like Islam, and prevent them along with the country’s various nations from becoming subjects of Russian statehood with equal rights.