Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Kazan Opposes Dropping Presidential Title for Tatarstan Head

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 18 –Tatarstan officials say that they are not prepared to change their republic’s constitution and thus stop calling the top official there “president,” as Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov-- with the full backing of the Kremlin -- has proposed and as the leaders of most non-Russian republics, sensitive to the way the wind is blowing, say they will do.
Kazan is opposed to this move because the Tatars fear that any change in title will lead to a reduction in the powers of the republic leader and the republic itself. And Kazan has adopted this step because, Moscow commentators say, because despite the retirement of longtime republic President Mintimir Shaimiyev, he and those he promoted remain in control in Kazan.
Tatarstan may ultimately be forced to go along, but by adopting this tactic, one it has used repeatedly in the past, the Middle Volga republic is likely to gain concessions from Moscow, a possibility all the more likely if as some now expect, other republics, particularly Tyva, decide to follow Kazan’s line.
At the very least, Tatarstan’s opposition is likely to slow down the current race to pass a federal law this fall standardizing the title of republic heads, and that in and of itself will almost certainly trigger an expanded discussion of the future of Russian federalism, a debate that may exacerbate rather than calm relations between Moscow and the non-Russian republics.
Tatarstan’s stance, “Vedomosti” said today, is “more fearless than Chechnya’s” because Kazan has once again opposed what the Kremlin wants. Sergey Stolyarov, Tatarstan’s first deputy justice minister, told the paper that Kazan is “not prepared to change its constitution” as Kadyrov has proposed (
The Chechen leader’s initiative “contradicts the republic’s basic law, which says that state power in the republic is realized by a president a state council, a cabinet of ministers and the courts” as well as Tatarstan’s August 30, 1990, declaration of sovereignty” which specified that the republic is headed by a president.
“Besides that,” Stolyarov pointed out, “it is unclear whether the federal center wants a simple re-naming or whether behind this [is a plan for] a redistribution of the powers” between Moscow and the republics. As far as that critical question is concerned, the deputy minister continued, “there are [as of yet] no explanations coming out of Moscow.”
Meanwhile, Fatikh Sibagatullin, a United Russia deputy in the Russian Duma, said that since the republic’s parliament is in recess, “there is simply no one to consider this question until the fall.” In his view, however, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov might agree if Moscow reassured him that there would be no change in his powers.
And Andrey Kuzmin, Minnikhanov’s press secretary, told Interfax that “we will not officially comment on the initiative of the president of the Chechen republic … because the question of how such officials should be called is the affair of the leader of the territory and his people in the final analysis (
In short, Kazan, not Moscow, has the right to make this decision.
And Vladimir Belyayev, a Kazan political scientist, suggested that Tatarstan might not move quickly to change the title of its top official even if Moscow passed a law requiring that, given that the powers and responsibilities of the republic president and prime minister “up to now are divided not as established by federal norms.”
Many commentators have suggested that the timing of Kadyrov’s proposal reflected the recent departures of the two longtime presidents of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, Shaimiyev and Murtaza Rakhimov. As “Nezavisimaya gazeta” said today, no one would have tried to re-title either of them (
And hence many Moscow writers today are focusing on the different positions that their successors have taken. Unlike his Tatar counterpart, who appears to be behind the positions Kazan officials have expressed, Rustem Khamitov has not come out as totally opposed to Kadyrov’s idea.
The reason for this, Moscow political scientist Aleksandr Kynyev says, is that Shaimiyev took the initiative in arranging the succession, guaranteeing himself and even more those, like Minnikhanov, whom he promoted continued influence. Rakhimov was forced out, and Moscow named the outsider Khamitov in his place, thus limiting the impact of his predecessor.
Real politics thus continues at the republic level, something Moscow appears to recognize. Indeed, one Kremlin source told Interfax today that “no one is going to force anyone” to change the titles. That will “be done only on a voluntary basis.” If that is the case, Tatarstan probably among other non-Russian republics will continue to have a president.

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