Vienna, February 17 – At a time when many in Moscow are speculating that the Kremlin will soon replace him, Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev hosted Turkish President Abdulla Gul in Kazan for talks that more closely resembled an exchange between two chiefs of state than between the head of one country and the leader of a small portion of another.
Gul’s visit to Kazan followed his meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow where the two agreed to dramatically expand their cooperation in the south Caucasus and elsewhere, but for many in the Tatar capital and elsewhere, the Turkish leader’s time in the Middle Volga republic was more important both symbolically and practically.
Not only did Gul bring to the Tatar capital the 200-person strong delegation of officials, businessmen and experts who had also been in Moscow, but his comments suggested that in his view he was meeting the leader of a nation that is not only important in its own right but is of particular interest to Turkey.
“Beginning in 1994,” Gul told a press conference after his meetings with Shaimiyev, “Turkish-Tatarstan relations have developed rapidly. In the course of our talks, we considered our relations in trade, investment, culture, and science, and we reaffirmed our plans for the further development of these ties” (www.islamnews.ru/news-17341.html).
The Turkish president said that the development of relations with Tatarstan had become “a most important element in the development and strengthening of fraternal relations with the Russian Federation,” something underscored by the presence of Turkey’s first consulate general in that country in Kazan.
And Gul continued with an expression of hope that “our entrepreneurs will cooperate more closely with their partners in Tatarstan” and that “the present visit will open a new page in the relationship between our republics,” words used more often in bilateral state visits than in follow on sessions in provinces or states.
For his part, Shaimiyev responded with the assurance that “today all conditions have been established for Tatarstan to be able to develop all-around cooperation with the Turkish Republic … as there is a fine basis and need for the development of relations,” given the nature of the economies of both states.
Even now, the longtime Tatarstan leader said, “we are using and will use all possibilities for cooperation including those which exist within the framework of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, IRSIKA, Turksoi, and the strategic vision group on ‘Russia and the Islamic World.’”
Our two peoples, Shaimiyev stressed, “are united by similar cultures, common traditions, a similar language and a single religion.” And drawing on “the inheritance which has been built up over the centuries, [the two parties] support the further deepening of [their] all-around ties” now and in the future.
The two countries, Gul and Shaimiyev announced, plan to expand the approximately three billion US dollars in trade done last year and the level of bilateral investments, to open cultural centers in the capitals of the two republics, and to consider increasing the number of flights between Tatarstan and cities in Turkey.
For Turkey’s Gul, this visit reinforced his country’s longstanding efforts to reach out to Turkic and especially Muslim Turkic republics. But for Tatarstan’s Shaimiyev, it may have been even more than that. On the one hand, this visit may have been the Kazan leader’s last play to highlight his importance to Moscow and thus keep his job.
Or on the other, it may have been an indication of his self-confidence about the role that Tatarstan can play not only within the confines of the Russian Federation but internationally as well, a self-confidence that had been much reduced during the Putin Administration but one that seems to be on the rise since Dmitry Medvedev became president.
But whichever of these proves to be the case – and it is possible that both played some part in the equation – this visit of a foreign chief of state to the capital of Tatarstan will encourage many in Kazan to think that they have a role to play beyond Russia’s borders as the only republic within them other than Chechnya that has never signed the federation treaty.