Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Risks Undermining Russian Federation by Recognizing Karabakh, Tatarstan Deputy Tells Azerbaijanis

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 14 –By recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Osetia or Transdniestria as independent, as many in Moscow are now urging, the Russian government would undermine the territorial integrity of its own country, a senior member of Tatarstan’s parliament told a Baku newspaper.
In a special section of last Sunday’s Zerkalo newspaper devoted to Tatarstan, Razil’ Valeyev, who chairs the nationality affairs committee of the Tatarstan parliament, said that “If Karabakh is torn away from Azerbaijan, then the Tatars will begin to think about independence from Russia” (
“We are not stupid,” he continued, and any move by the Russian government in this regard would lead his fellow Tatars to ask themselves: “If this is possible for the Abkhaz, Osetins, Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh or the Russians of Transdniestria, then why is it forbidden to US TATARS?”
Moreover, he continued, the Tatars, who represent the second largest nationality in the Russian Federation are hardly likely to be alone in this. The Bashkirs, the Chechens and the Yakuts almost certainly would draw similar conclusions and make similar plans, he suggested.
Thus, Valeyev said, Moscow’s current policies in this area, policies that reflect the unfortunate reality that “Russia in no way is able to move away from its imperial ambitions, its unwise striving to be the largest, to run everything and everyone in order that everything and everyone are subordinate only to it.”
Most outside commentators, of course, have suggested that recent suggestions that Moscow might recognize the independence of Karabakh and the West are either intended to counter Western plans to support an independent Kosovo or to exploit differences in the post-Soviet space to Russia’s advantage.
But Valeyev and many of the other Tatars whose comments appeared in this Baku newspaper focused on the imperial nature of Russian policy – another Tatar commented that “the suppression of the sovereignty of Tatarstan reflects the revival of imperial consciousness” in Moscow (
Valeyev backed up his argument on this point by suggesting just how independence-minded his fellow Tatars are, despite the pressure that Moscow under President Vladimir Putin has imposed on them in an effort to get them to conform to all-Russian standards.
To strengthen his case that the Tatars remain committed to ultimate independence, Valeyev called attention to three things that are clearly important to him and his co-ethnics but are not developments that most more cautious Tatarstan political leaders like President Mintimir Shaimiyev routinely point to.
First of all, Valeyev noted that despite Moscow’s pressure to conform, “we did not remove the provision from Tatarstan’s Constitution which specifies that the president of Tatarstan is to be elected by a direct vote of the people.” Instead, and in a way that recalls actions by the Baltic nations in 1990, “we only suspended it for the time being.”
Second, the Tatar deputy indicated that he and his colleagues “sincerely want and are striving in order that Tatarstan will acquire a full-fledged parliament, like the Milli Mejlis of Azerbaijan,” a goal that may seem far off now but that could be achieved more quickly if Moscow makes additional mistakes in this area.
And third, Valeyev noted that he and his colleagues are working to build the kind of alliances with others that will help Tatarstan achieve these goals when the times are right, alliances like the one he and his colleagues appear to be seeking by means of these interviews with a newspaper in the capital of an independent Turkic state.
Obviously both the Tatars and the Azerbaijanis hope to gain from this, the former by keeping up the pressure on Moscow in order to give them more freedom of action and the possibility of independence some day and the latter by warning Moscow that its moves in this area of foreign affairs could backfire on the Russian government at home.
Neither side is likely to achieve all that it hopes from these ties, but the fact that both are seeking them highlights an important reality of post-Soviet politics: ties across international borders often intersect with those inside individual countries and complicate the lives of policy making in both spheres.

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