Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 23

On January 20, the Russian State Council, which includes regional leaders and President Vladimir Putin, met in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, an autonomous republic in the Volga region. After the meeting Putin decorated Mintimir Shaimiev, the Tatar leader, with a medal “For Service to Fatherland, First Degree.” The award was a birthday present of sorts, since Shaimiev turned 70 that day. “The president of Tatarstan belongs to the category of regional leaders who can be and must be rated as regional leaders of the nation-wide scale,” Putin declared. He added that Shaimiev had turned the republic into one of the leading regions of Russia. Putin also reminded the audience of the unstable period of the 1990s when “our country was just walking on the knife’s edge.” Following his speech Putin immediately left for Moscow and did not attend Shaimiev’s official birthday celebration.

When opening the session of the State Council in Kazan, Putin made a slip of the tongue that some observers in Russia regarded as deliberate. He thanked Shaimiev for the opportunity to hold the Council’s session “in the Moscow — um — Kazan Kremlin.” Like Moscow, Kazan also has a medieval fortress known as the “kremlin.” This slip of the tongue, as well as Putin’s reference to of the dark days of the 1990s, may have been a veiled message for Shaimiev; namely, the federal center does not want to have a power-sharing treaty with Tatarstan any longer.

Throughout 2006 Tatar authorities pushed Moscow to sign such an agreement. Finally, Putin sent the draft treaty with Tatarstan to the State Duma on November 6 (see EDM, November 21, 2006). At the time, passage of a treaty containing some economic and ethnic concessions to Tatarstan seemed inevitable (see EDM, May 25, 2006; November 21, 2006). The draft has already been approved by 25 Russian ministries and agencies and by all appropriate committees of the Russian parliament, but there has been no announcement about when the State Duma would adopt it.

Within a week’s time, Tatar authorities started to worry about the treaty’s future. On November 14, Farid Mukhametshin, speaker of the State Council of Tatarstan, declared that the draft contained no concessions for the republic and only protected the ethnic rights of the Tatars. He expressed his hope that other Russian regions would also support the Tatar-Moscow treaty (Regnum.ru, November 14, 2006). Some regions did — but not in the way that Mukhametshin expected. In the middle of November some civic organizations in the republic of Bashkortostan launched a movement named “For Federative Russia” that sought a similar power-sharing treaty between Moscow and Bashkortostan. The Bashkir authorities supported the initiative, and on December 3 Murtaza Rakhimov, the president of Bashkortostan, signed a decree to set up a special commission to draft such a treaty (Kommersant, December 4).

Moscow considered the Bashkir proposal to be very provocative, and it provided fuel to those in Putin’s administration who were against any kind of treaty with Tatarstan or with any other Russian region. These people had been telling Putin that the new treaty with Tatarstan could have a domino effect as other regions would demand the same. The Bashkortostan initiative was a perfect excuse to block any attempts to conclude the power-sharing treaty with Tatarstan.

On December 19, Sergei Mironov, chairman of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, fiercely rejected the idea of the treaty with Tatarstan. “A treaty with Tatarstan is politically undesirable and dangerous. I will recommend that Federation Council not ratify it.”

The same day Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, said that the treaty contained issues that should be clarified. Gryzlov did not give any details about the issues that had suddenly appeared in a document that had been already approved by the Kremlin.

This January, after the New Year and Christmas holidays, federal politicians continued burying the draft. On January 15, Vladimir Pligin, the Head of the State Building Committee of the Duma, said that the Committee was not going to discuss the treaty with Tatarstan in the near future (regions.ru, January 15).

Shaimiev responded on January 18 in an interview with the Interfax news agency. He obliquely hinted at possible unrest in the republic if the treaty were not adopted. “The most important thing is the preservation of ethnic harmony in the republic,” he commented. He then called upon the federal administration to consider ethnic factors in the country, since Russia is a multiethnic state. Then he warned, “Russian chauvinism is very dangerous.”

However, it was too late to change anything. The Kremlin had decided to postpone — if not cancel — ratification of the treaty. To tame Shaimiev, Moscow warned that some of his deals in Tatarstan might be investigated. The very same day that Interfax published the interview with Shaimiev, Viktor Ilyukhin, head of the Security Committee of the State Duma, declared that he had sent a letter to the Tatar leader in which he called Shaimiev’s attention to the fact that his relatives, who own the largest factory in the region, Nizhnekamskneftekhim, had kicked out minority shareholders and taken over all the shares of the factory, including those that belonged to the Tatar government itself (regions.ru, January 18).

Putin’s convenient allusion to Russian history linked Tatarstan to instability. Thus, Putin reminded Shaimiev that he, not Shaimiev, is still the president of Russia and that any power-sharing treaties are unlikely.