Staunton, July 18 – The Kremlin’s ouster of Bashkortostan’s Murtaza Rakhimov sends a message to “ethnocratic” regimes in the non-Russian republics that “the rules of the game have changed” and that the central government will no longer tolerate the kind of discrimination against ethnic Russians they have practiced up to now, a Russian analyst says.
Pavel Svyatenkov argues that Rakhimov’s ouster is all the more important because he resisted so long and was then bluntly forced out thus losing the chance Tatarstan’s Mintimir Shaimiyev ultimately seized to select his own successor, provide a place for himself in the new regime, and ensure the continuation of his policies (www.rus-obr.ru/day-comment/7262).
And because “the pettier ethnocratic regimes like those in Yakutia, Kalmykia, and Chuvashia, not to speak of the republics of the North Caucasus” have often taken their cues from what Tatarstan and Bashkortostan have achieved, the Russian nationalist commentator he “hopes,” the Kremlin’s actions in Rakhimov’s case should echo across the country.
During his nearly 20 years in power, Rakhimov took several steps which infuriated ethnic Russians. He falsified census returns in order to “maximally increase the number of Bashkirs and decrease the number of Russians.” He created a special passport for Bashkirs so that they could indicate their “semi-citizenship” in the republic.
And the Bashkir leader worked hard not only to drive out the use of the Russian language but also to eliminate from the republic’s political bureaucracy all ethnic Russians, thus transforming “Bashkortostan into a semi-sovereign enclave on the territory of which Russian laws in practice did not operate.”
In the early 1990s, Svyatenkov write, Bashkortostan and Tatarstan sought to gain the status of union republics, something that “would have meant the disintegration of Russia in the form in which we know it. At that time, the newspapers even publishes maps of the Russian Federation without the autonomous republics,” maps that would have left it in tatters.
Like Shaimiyev, Rakhimov did not achieve that, but he remained in office by “blackmailing” the Kremlin, “exploiting the myth that only he alone was capable of preventing ethnic conflict” in his republic. The implied message was: “Remove Rakhimov and you’ll get a new Chechnya.”
That was never the case, Svyatenkov suggests, but the threat acted as a restraint on the Kremlin. And until this year, it appeared that both Shaimiyev and Rakhimov, given their age, would succeed in living out their days in power. But Medvedev “remained true to himself and the regional barons began one after the other to go into retirement.”
Because of the attention the media devoted to Rakhimov’s departure, few paid much attention to the ouster of Nikolay Fedorov, the president of Chuvashia. He too was “an ethnocrat,” Svyatenkov says, albeit “a weaker and less obvious one than his Bashkir colleague,” even though he ruled his republic for 17 years.
The departure of the two this past week, the Russian analyst argues, means that “the Kremlin has decided to destroy the last ethnocratic regimes on the core territory of Russia.” And that in turn means that these republics will not be ruled by bosses in power for “decades” but by people routinely assigned and replaced by Moscow.
It is the case, Svyatenkov concedes, that there are three notable exceptions: Kalmykia’s Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov, and Moscow’s Yuri Luzhkov. The first is likely to go soon, the analyst says; the second is a “special” case as a result of the war. And the fate of the third is thus the most intriguing question now.
On the one hand, Luzhkov has “no separatist pretensions,” but on the other, he is a nuisance, often acting like “a bandit baron who has constructed his castle directly opposite that of the king and tries to rob the caravans going to him.” Consequently, in Svyatenkov’s view, Luzhkov will soon “live his post.”
“As we see,” the Russian analyst concludes, “the retirement of Rakhimov changes the political landscape of Russia much more strongly than did Shaimiyev’s.” As in earlier times, the Kremlin “has won a victory in the collection of Russian lands and the centralization of state power.”
Moreover, it has achieved something else: it has eliminated “the asymmetric federalism” that had characterized the Russian Federation, a system in which the non-Russian republics had greater powers than the predominantly Russian oblasts and krays and which offended ethnic Russians on many occasions.
Now, he writes in words that will certainly please many ethnic Russians, “Bashkortstan is becoming an ordinary Russian region if not de jure at least de facto. And this is a wonderful result because the territorial unity of the country is being threatened, and that means the state is being strengthened as well.”