Saturday, June 20, 2009

Window on Eurasia: National Republics Resist Moscow on Dropping References to Sovereignty

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 19 – Three of the four national republics the Russian Supreme Court earlier this month ordered to drop references in their constitutions to republic sovereignty and citizenship are dragging their feet, an indication of both the importance of these terms to many non-Russians and a calculation that resistance to the center could have dividends.
While the Sakha parliament on Wednesday approved a law making the changes Moscow wants (, the governments of Tyva, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan have not taken this step and, in at least the cases of Kazan and Ufa, do not appear to be planning to do so in the immediate future.
In Tyva, deputies in the Grand Khural, as the republic parliament is known, this week voted down legislation that would have created a constitutional commission to consider the changes. But officials there suggested implied that the deputies were acting “on the basis of inertia” and would soon do what the Supreme Court has ordered (
The situation in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan appears to be very different. There, in the words of a lead article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the latest demand of the Russian Constitutional Court is viewed as the latest effort by Moscow to undermine the legitimate powers of the republics (
While Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov said immediately after the Court announced its decision that “once the leadership has given an order, we will change” what has to be changed, his own outspoken criticism of Moscow’s policies and United Russia’s arrangements has been accompanied by no moves to do so.
(Indeed, since that time, one of his senior aides, Sergey Lavrentyev has issued an even more withering criticism of the center’s policies in spite or perhaps because of rumors, now much reduced in the wake of Vladislav Surkov’s visit to Ufa today, that Moscow is about to fire Rakhimov (
However that may be – and many analysts still believe that Rakhimov’s days in office are numbered – “Nezavisimaya gazeta” points out that “eight years ago” he and Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev were able “to find a compromise with the leadership of the country” as then Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed to build his “power vertical.”
The two Middle Volga leaders agreed to bring “local laws into line with federal ones” but only if Moscow “left untouched” the declarations in the constitutions of these two large Turkic republics concerning their own sovereignty and national citizenship. The two did so apparently in the hopes that after Putin left office, they could revisit this arrangement to their benefit.
But instead, Moscow has sought to press the two republics further in violation of the compromise they thought would remain a baseline in their relationships with the center. And consequently, the independent Moscow paper suggested, the two are now playing a different game, seeking other “political dividends” for ultimately agreeing to go along.
Earlier this week, Tatarstan asked Moscow for more than 15 billion rubles (480 million US dollars) to cover the local budget deficit, a request that Shaimiyev accompanied with a statement that Moscow officials do not appear to know the Russian Constitution very well since there is a reference in that document to “sovereign republics within Russia.”
Were Shaimiyev and Rakhimov to give way on this, the paper continued, that would represent “the bankruptcy of the political line” which Shaimiyev has pursued “for 20 years.” Consequently, at the very least, he and his colleague Rakhimov are going to drag out the process, hopeful that Moscow will decide it is cheaper to pay them off other ways.
Whether that calculation will work this time around is uncertain, but Surkov’s statements after meeting Rakhimov suggest that Moscow doesn’t want to provoke a fight on this at least not during the current crisis. And consequently, the “better times” Shaimiyev and Rakhimov have been waiting for may be closer but very different than anyone else expected.
Meanwhile, the other federal subjects the Court directed to make similar changes – the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, Komi, Chechnya, and Buryatia and the autonomous districts of Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets – supposedly are slated to go ahead, although it is entirely possible that leaders in some of them may take their lead from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

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