The fate of the power-sharing treaty between the Russian federal authorities and the Republic of Tatarstan demonstrates how unpredictable political life in Russia has become. On February 21 the Federation Council (upper house of parliament) rejected the power-sharing treaty, even though it had been ratified by the State Duma (lower house), where the pro-Kremlin United Russia party has a majority (see EDM, February 15).
Four Council committees had recommended voting against the treaty because, “Its approval will give an exclusive position to Tatarstan and this will ruin the system of relations that exists in Russia today” (gazeta.ru, February 21). Council Chairman Sergei Mironov repeated his familiar argument: ‘Ratification of the treaty would provide a dangerous political precedent because the treaty is a setback from the federal reforms of President Vladimir Putin.” Only 13 members of the Council voted in favor of the treaty, while 93 voted against it and 15 abstained.
There are two explanations circulating about why the Federation Council, which usually is easily governed by the Kremlin, vetoed the agreement with Tatarstan. Gazeta.ru believes that the Russian authorities had tricked Tatar President Mintimir Shaimiev. According to the newspaper:
Shaimiev, who is lobbying the law [Treaty] has become a victim of the combination that had been applied earlier to the Council of Europe. Last December the State Duma unexpectedly refused to ratify an agreement that had been introduced by the Russian President to reform the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. The head of the Russian state remained clean in the eyes of the Western community as a result, and all criticism by Europeans could be directed at the Duma alone (gazeta.ru, February 21).
The newspaper also pointed out the fact that during the discussion Alexander Kotenkov, Putin’s envoy to the Federation Council, did not try hard to defend the treaty.
Another version says that the Council’s failure to adopt the treaty is the result of a hidden struggle among Kremlin factions, which has increased on the eve of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia. “The fact that the power-sharing treaty was rejected by the Federation Council indicates the beginning of political struggle before the elections to the State Duma,” says Oleg Morozov, a leader of the United Russia faction in the Duma and one of the most active supporters of the treaty (Tatar-Inform, March 2).
Indeed, as the Council discussed the treaty, Mironov sharply criticized United Russia for adopting an agreement that “damages the integrity of Russia.” Mironov is not only the chairman of the Council but also the leader of Justice Russia party, a leftist project of the Kremlin and the main competitor of United Russia. It is believed that Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Presidential Administration, and Dmitry Medvedev, a deputy prime minister, are behind the United Russia, while the Justice Russia is supported by the siloviki group headed by Igor Sechin, a KGB veteran and another deputy chief of Putin’s Administration (see EDM, February 15).
The siloviki are against the treaty because they regard it as a threat to Putin’s vertical power structure, but it is also possible that the Tatar leader is really the main target. On February 27 Gazeta newspaper — different from the website gazeta.ru — stunned the Russian public by publishing an article that says that the Kremlin plans to remove Shaimiev and replace him with a new Tatar politician, probably federal Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, who is of Tatar origin. Gazeta also says that Shaimiev is ready to leave the post, but he wants a close ally, Tatar parliamentary chair Farid Mukhametshin, to succeed him. However, the newspaper sees Nurgaliev as the frontrunner.
Such rumors could mean that some factions inside the Kremlin, perhaps bureaucrats who want Justice Russia to win the upcoming parliamentary elections, are interested in toppling Shaimiev in order to control votes of the residents of Tatarstan. If Shaimiev remains in office, United Russia (Shaimiev is a member of the party’s Council) will inevitably win.
At the same time, the article in Gazeta could be a warning to the Tatar leader. Perhaps somebody in the Kremlin wants to caution Shaimiev against trying to protect the treaty.
If the article was indeed a warning, Shaimiev ignored it. On February 28, one day after the Gazeta article, he declared before the Tatar parliament that he would continue to fight for the treaty. At the same time, the Tatar branch of United Russia called upon the United Russia faction in the State Duma to override the Federation Council’s veto and ratify the treaty again. The Tatar deputies threatened the Russian authorities that if the treaty does not pass, it could adversely affect the situation in Tatarstan on the eve of the upcoming elections (Kommersant, March 1).
The State Duma could easily override the veto (last time 306 Duma lawmakers voted in favor of the treaty), but only if the Kremlin is really interested in it. It is hard to predict now, since the Kremlin does not appear to be a monolithic force anymore.