Vienna, June 9 – Developments over the weekend in Tatarstan suggest Moscow plans to eliminate the post and title of president in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation, a move that many Russians have long demanded but one that is certain to trigger resentment among non-Russians who view that title as an indication of their special status.
Today’s Gazeta reports that on Saturday, Tatar parliamentary leaders told deputies there not to leave the republic during the first third of July so that there will be a sufficient number present to vote on constitutional changes, among which some expect will be the elimination of the post of president (www.gzt.ru/politics/2008/06/09/060122.html).
If that happens, then Mintimir Shaimiyev who has been president of Tatarstan since 1991 might become chairman of the republic’s state council, in much the same way that leaders of the non-Russian republics within the RSFSR and other union republics were chairmen of the presidium of the republic Supreme Soviets before 1991.
And the Moscow paper adds that “it is not excluded that in that event will begin analogous changes in the system of power in other national republics so that in Russia there will remain only one president,” that of the country as a whole, or in the current case, President Dmitry Medvedev.
But as significant as this move in Kazan could prove to be for the country as a whole – and like Putin’s plan for the amalgamation of non-Russian and Russian regions, it is certain to run into opposition – any such change in Tatarstan will have enormous consequences for that Middle Volga republic.
Robert Sadykov, a communist deputy in the Tatarstan State Council, told Gazeta that Shaimiyev may end up as speaker but that regardless of whether he does or not, “real power” in that bellwether republic “will pass to the prime minister” who may or may not be the current head of government Rustam Minnikhanov.
“Everything depends on negotiations between Shaimiyev and the federal center,” the paper continues. Grigory Rapota, the Presidential plenipotentiary for the Middle Volga, met with him last Friday for a meeting that “lasted several hours instead of the planned 30 minutes,” a session that was not followed by a scheduled press conference.
After that session, Shaimiyev “suddenly” left for the economic forum in St. Petersburg in order to try to meet with Dmitry Medvedev and get his guarantee that “the Kremlin will not impose” on the Tatarstan state council an “unacceptable” candidate for prime minister of that republic.
Regardless of whether he is successful or not, Shaimiyev’s days as president are clearly numbered, Gazeta concludes. And it suggests that the end of his “presidency” should be followed first by the heads of Bashkortostan and Chuvashia, then by the leaders in the North Caucasus republics, and finally by Siberian republics like Buryatia, Tuva and Altai.
That list is sufficiently long that there are certain to be problems in one or more places as a result, but at a minimum, Medvedev’s push for such a change provides him with an opportunity to put his own people in some of these posts, one that if he exploits it could change the balance of power not only in the regions but in Moscow itself.
UPDATE for June 10: Tatar officials have denied the “Gazeta” report, labeling it a provocation (www.sobkorr.ru/news/484D3F7C54ECA.html), but Russian commentators have taken it seriously, with some welcoming it (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=727254) and others suggesting that it will make the country’s political situation worse however well-intentioned those behind the plan may be (www.sobkorr.ru/news/484CD54C1090B.html).