Friday, February 17, 2017

Russia’s Economic Crisis Reopening Debates on Federalism and Power-Sharing, Tatar Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 17 – The deepening economic crisis in the Russian Federation has led ever more people outside of Moscow to begin to talk about federalism and power-sharing, subjects that had been almost forgotten during the fat years when the center could send enough money back to the federal subjects to keep most reasonably happy and in line.

            But today as Dmitry Medvedev notoriously said, “there is no money,” and so arrangements that determine who gets how much and who has to pay for what are an increasing number of unfunded liabilities are at the center of attention in regional capitals, according to Tatarstan analyst Ilnar Garifullin (

            All this is happening “with terrifying speed,” he says, adding that Moscow’s unwillingness and inability to respond in an adequate way is causing ever more people in the federal subjects to ask even larger and more fateful questions not only about their relations with the center but their possible relations with foreign actors in general and Europe in particular.

            As was true not only in Soviet times but since 1991 as well, Tatarstan has been the place where these debates are the furthest advanced, Garifullin says, because Kazan unlike all other subjects of the Russian Federation “didn’t sign he Federative Treaty with Moscow and has maintained a power-sharing treaty with the center since that time.

            That agreement, which is up for renewal later this year, is “’the last bastion’ of republic sovereignty,” something that “the other republics of the Russian Federation lost already long ago,” the analyst continues. And that accord has allowed Tatarstan to pursue “an absolutely independent foreign economic policy,” even against Moscow’s wishes as with Turkey after the shooting down of the Russian warplane.

            Tatarstan turned out to be right, as subsequent events showed, but its action in htat case and others showed the world that “Tatarstan still preserves its special status within the Russian Federation and that it is possible to reach agreements with it directly” rather than via the central government in Moscow.

            And Kazan has continued this course by very self-consciously choosing “’a European path’” which involves federalism and the development of local self-government, hallmarks of the EU and of Tatarstan but not of Russia. Indeed, Garifullin continues, this path was marked out by Yusuf Akchura a century ago in his classic essay, “Three Political Systems.”

            Moreover, it is rooted in the history of “the formation of the first territorial autonomy of Tatars and other peoples of the Urals-Volga region, the Idel Ural Republic which was proclaimed on November 20, 1917” and which was committed as the EU and Tatarstan are today to a civic, multi-ethnic society.

            One indication of this commitment to Europe and at the same time a driving force behind it in Tatarstan is the orientation of university students there, the Tatar analyst says. In 2016, the Higher School of Economics found that students in Tatarstan higher schools  were more oriented toward Europe than were students in the universities of St. Petersburg.

            To promote these values and goals both within Tatarstan and among the other regions and republics in the Russian Federation, a group of Tatar activists four years ago created a collective  political experts group and blog ( Now that issues of federalism and power sharing are again at the center of attention, its influence is growing.

            Garifullin sums up what the group believes: “The Republic of Tatarstan,” he writes, “is part of ‘the second world,’ from which there are only two ways out: to the first world, developed and rich or to the third world, poor and without prospects.  And sooner or later and likely sooner rather than later, we must make a choice between them.”

            Depending on which choice those in Moscow make, Tatarstan will be able to cooperate with them or alternatively will be compelled to seek its own distinctive future.

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