Sovereignty Under Question: Tatarstan within the Context of Putin’s Reforms

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Sovereignty Under Question: Tatarstan within the Context of Putin’s Reforms

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3.3. Sovereignty Under Question: Tatarstan within the Context of Putin’s Reforms

Putin’s centralization policy had directly affected Tatarstan in many ways. On June 27, 2000 the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation had questioned the sovereign status of the republic. On June 2001, the Supreme Qualification College of the Judges of Russia has issued a warning statement to the Chairman of the Supreme Court of Tatarstan Gennady Baranov for his failure to fulfill the Russian legislation1460. Sergey Kirienko, the presidential envoy in the Volga Federal District, has questioned Shaimiev’s ambition to represent the interests of all Tatars of Russia (alluding that the majority of Tatars live beyond the republic)1461. The Customs Board of Tatarstan was rearranged and subordinated to the Volga Customs authorities1462. Vladimir Zorin, deputy presidential representative in VFD, has challenged the abilities of Tatarstani ethnic policies positing that “there are a number of problems that the confessions are unable to solve by themselves”1463, without interference of the central government.

In May 2000 with the start of the territorial reform Vladimir Putin has announced that the first task of Presidential envoys in the federal districts would be to bring local laws into line with the federal ones. The Commission on revising the Tatarstani legislation had started its work on September 11, 2000. Initially the deadline was set for December 31, 2000, yet for Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, the two republics with the greatest number of laws which didn’t conform to federal ones, this period was prolonged up to March 9, 2001.

The process of legal equalizing turned out to be an uneasy enterprise. Thus, both Constitutional and Supreme Courts of Tatarstan had harshly criticized the appeal of the deputy prosecutor general in VFD Alexander Zviagintsev who urged to cancel 40 articles of the Constitution of Tatarstan which, in his opinion, contradict the Russian legislation. Yet the Russian Supreme Court insists that its Tatarstani counterpart has to take decision on this issue1464. Moreover, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation had stated that the most recent election to the State Council of Tatarstan were held with violations of the national laws, which in fact questions the legitimacy of the Tatarstani parliament1465.

To counter-react, Tatarstani leaders have issued a number of statements. The first reaction to Putin’s initiatives was rather furious. For example, Marat Galeev, the member of the State Council of Tatarstan, has called the whole federal reform unfeasible and conducive to violations of current legislation1466.

Yet President Shaimiev has shown more moderation. He expressed his strong support of keeping intact the power sharing agreement, alluding that there are no other documents that legally frame Tatarstan’s association with Russia. His thesis is that without the treaties between the federal center and the regions Russia would be a unitary state1467.

Later on, Shaimiev came up with proposal to amend the Russian Constitution in a way that would change the rules regulating the formation of electoral districts. The most important thing is that Tatarstani authorities are eager to do away with the clause which disallows more than 10% difference in terms of population between the electoral districts. The speaker of the State Council of Tatarstan Farid Mukhametshin looks for support from other ethnic republic (in particular, Adygeia and Dagestan) that are not satisfied with “ten-per-cent” clause because it makes impossible to form electoral districts based on ethnic background1468. Ethnic electoral districts, as many in Tatarstan deem, might avoid turning political campaigning into inter-ethnic clashes, and keep the voters’ choice in the framework of one ethnic group. Understanding that this arrangement is a clear departure from democratic procedures, Tatarstani political experts concede that this is a precondition for ethnic peace in the republic1469. In exchange for acceptance of its legislative proposal, Tatarstan is ready to negotiate further removing from its Constitution articles on republic’s sovereignty and international actorship.

A number of other concessions to the federal center have been made as well. Politically, Shaimiev has agreed to introduce bicameral model of the State Council, thus allowing opposition forces to get their seats in its lower house1470. In fall 2000 he also supported Putin in reintroducing the Soviet-era anthem. In the economic area, for the first time in the whole decade, 2001 budget of Tatarstan was drafted in accordance to the national tax legislation, which led to abolishing of certain local taxes and channeling 60 percent of its revenues to the federal budget, as all other regions of Russia. In exchange, the federal government has agreed to co-fund some projects that used to be funded out of republican means1471.

These facts clearly testify that the political elite basically shows a great deal of soberness and moderation, and strategically looks for political settlement of their disagreements with the federal center. Starting from fall 2000, Shaimiev prefers to speak about “self-sufficient” (not “sovereign”) Tatarstan. “The offices of federal agencies have begun to open in Kazan’, and Moscow has reimposed control over tax collection and spending. The introduction of teaching using the Latin alphabet has been postponed, with existing projects labeled experimental”1472. The Communication Board of Tatarstan was rearranged as the federal unit1473. Some local experts have started discussing conditions of Tatarstan’s entry into an enlarged region, should the federal center take this decision1474. In Shaimiev’s view, there was sufficient space for bargaining with the federal authorities. This strategy of accommodation was reinforced by political messages he was receiving from Moscow, basically signalizing that President Putin is not intended to unseat Shaimiev.

Tatarstani authorities are looking for political compromises based on assumption that all changes in the Constitutions of republics (including Tatarstan) have to be complemented by adequate revisions of the federal Constitution1475. Yet Tatarstan seems to be unwilling to give up its conviction that Russia has to remain asymmetrical federation and needs the Chamber of Nationalities as a part of its parliament 1476. Shaimiev remain strong supporter of keeping the heads of the subjects of federations popularly elected, while in his view the heads of the municipal units have to be appointed1477.

Also Tatarstan does not want to give up its reservations concerning the territorial reform. Shaimiev is one of the most vociferous critics of the withdrawal of the regional leaders from the Council of Federation1478. In an attempt to start publicly debating the effectiveness of new regional division of Russia, Mentimir Shaimiev had announced the idea of dividing each of the federal districts into several territorial entities each comprising 2 or 3 subjects of federation. In his opinion, 15 “small regions” within one federal district (the case of VDF) is too many. To develop further these ideas, in April 2001 Farid Mukhametshin came up with the proposal to officially allow the “donor” regions (those giving to the federal budget more that they receive) to have under their financial patronage a number of adjacent weaker provinces. These regional groupings centered around several leaders (including Tatarstan itself) could be nuclei of future new regional agglomerations in Russia1479.

Mintimir Shaimiev is still the political figure the federal authorities have to take probably more seriously than most other regional chieftains (President Putin has publicly confessed that it was Shaimiev to whom he first offered the post of the head of the VFD1480). In opinion of Professor Vladimir Razuvaev, “in the light of Taliban successes in Afghanistan and possible ‘domino reaction’ all across Central Asia, Moscow treats Shaimiev as a much needed leader that could have been used as a barrier to religious extremism and political destabilization”1481. As a symbol of easing tensions between Tatarstan and Russia1482, president Shaimiev was appointed the member of the 7-governor presidency of the newly created State Council. In the State Council Mr. Shaimiev chaired the ad-hoc group on elaboration of power-sharing in the joint-jurisdiction issues of the Russian Federation and the regions. On the whole, the main aim of his project was to further redistribute concurrent powers between federal and regional authorities. Yet the Kremlin’s reaction to Shaimiev Report to the State Council was quite revealing: it was withdrawn from the agenda on a short notice and substituted by another issue1483, which was an indication that the federal center is still unready to discuss these issues in depth.

The good news for Tatarstan was that the federal center found out that there were regional laws (like he Tatarstan’s Land Code1484) that were either better than the federal ones or unique. Sergei Kirienko, the representative of the Russian President in the Volga Federal District, has consented that it’s necessary to use regional experience and make amendments or adopt new laws on the federal level. This is a good example of the regions’ ability to influence the federal policy and law making.

On several occasions, Kirienko has given high appraisals to Tatarstani authorities. In his words, one day there will be a monument of Shaimiev built up1485. In a conciliatory manner he admitted that the tax privileges obtained by Tatarstan from the federal center, were properly used for the sake of republic’s economy1486. Kirienko praised Tatarstani authorities for their understanding of the need to build up “integration chains” with other regions in order to be competitive abroad1487. He compared Tatarstan with the corporation based on strict vertical subordination inside, but competing rather effectively with other political and economic actors, using a variety of legitimate means. “I am not saying this was the right thing to do; what I am saying is that it worked”, Kirienko has stated1488. At the same time, Kirienko was quite explicit in terming the Tatarstani demand for introducing “nationality” rubric in the new passports as “violation of human rights”1489: in his view, in a democratic society people are not supposed to indicate their ethnic affiliation on a mandatory basis.

Nevertheless, the intellectuals in Tatarstan expressed great concerns regarding President Putin’s intentions to subdue the regions1490. The very establishment of the federal districts was put under question mark, since local experts argued that the federal government always possessed of adequate instruments to oversight the regions (courts, Ministry of Justice, etc.), and there is no guarantee that Putin’s system would work much better.


Orenburg oblast is the case of Russia’s border regions. Hence, its main international capital is that of trans-border interactions.

Trans-border cooperation is treated by the Council of Europe Convention of 1980 as any joint activity undertaken in order to enforce neighbor contacts between communities and territorial authorities of two or more parties. In a narrow sense, trans-border cooperation implies mutually fruitful linkages between immediate neighbors and is widely viewed internationally as the key step toward the integration process.

On the one hand, it performs the role of frontier guards, or barriers that defend Russian military, economic and political security. An exclusive neighborhood “marks the limit of the milieu, the beginning of an alien area, often conceived as strange and full of perils”1491 which results very often in practical conflicts over the delineation of land claimed by two parties. Lack of full-blooded borders converted Orenburg oblast into a paradise for illegal immigrants from the neighboring areas. This was a matter of insistent concern from the part of Russian security services claiming that the lack of adequate law enforcement mechanisms entails all-Russian security problems (illegal border crossing, smuggling, etc.). Regional elites are usually forced to solve themselves - with no sufficient aid from Moscow - problems of illegal immigration, fortification of borders, security issues, customs regulations, anti-crime measures.

Yet, as we have said earlier, Orenburg oblast may also play the role of “contact region”, as opposed to “border barriers”. Vladimir Zorin, deputy representative of the President in VFD, has called Orenburg „Russia‘s bridge between West and East“1492. It might be depicted as “open border” region, where the function of contact with foreign territories, and not that of separation from them, is predominant. This is one of the messages that are quite legible in the Foreign Policy Doctrines of the Russian Federation that underlines the importance of trans-border relations with former USSR republics, including Kazakhstan.

All mentioned above brings us to analysing the case of Orenburg Oblast‘ internationalization as a peculiar mix of challenges and oportunities.

4.1. Opportunities

The first is that frontier location and geographical vicinity to foreign countries increase the possibilities of bargaining with the federal center: requesting additional financial resources in compensation for border control, demanding direct access to revenues from customs duties, etc.

Second, Orenburg oblast, as other border regions, has a special legislative status on the federal level for developing overseas contacts, apart from bilateral agreements. These legal acts include trans-border cooperation agreements signed between the government of Russia and Kazakhstan (January 1995), Intergovernmental Agreement between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kirgizia on basic principles of transborder cooperation, signed in February 1999, as well as Recommendations of the 8th Session of the Advisory Council of the Subjects of the Federation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the area of trans-border cooperation, issued in June 19981493.

Third, trans-border economic interaction encourages trade and investment relations (e.g., “investment corridors”), and (unlike GATT and WTO) does not require the reciprocity1494. What is also important is that the border regions are subjects of international transit business, still underestimated (experts of President Putin’s think tank assume that the transportation networks might raise seven or eight times more revenues than at present)1495.

Trans-border regionalism in Orenburg oblast gives a good illustration of the changing nature of the contemporary borders that stems from two basic processes: one is domestic (the self-determination of regions in a new international ambit), and the second is external (global reshaping of the world geopolitical scene). Both developments lead to growing mobility, flexibility and transparency of traditional frontiers. As Chris Brown put it, “the possibility of a genuinely global economy clearly raises the issue of ‘borders’ to the top of the agenda – hence the notion of a ‘borderless world’ and ‘de-bordering’”1496.

4.2. Challenges

Yet cross-border cooperation is a very fragile phenomenon in Orenburg oblast. Its vulnerability stems from a number of factors.

First, this region is located on the fringes of civilized areas. Kazakhstan considers itself culturally different from Russia, which fuels isolationist attitudes from them. Trans-border interface is overwhelmed with ethnic, religious and cultural gaps.

Second, Orenburg oblast – to a greater extent than inland territories of VFD – has to deal with immigration. Experts deem that migrants inflow to Orenburg oblast will persist in the forthcoming future, and direct contacts with the outside world will further sharpen the problem of regional cultural identity, since negative perceptions of migration are also mainly cultural.

Third, authorities in the Orenburg oblast have to tackle, on a regular basis, the “dark side” of internationalisation – crime, illegal hunting, border-crossing or smuggling (drugs, guns, undeclared cash, etc.). As a result, security services in border regions have to perform protective functions and shield off those threats stemming from their frontier location.

Fourth, one of the vulnerabilities of the Orenburg oblast stems from its heavy dependence on policies of the federal government. Valentin Stepankov, deputy representative of the President in VFD, was quite explicit in saying that non-protected border is the cause of illegal migration and religious extremists. In the meanwhile, because of weak border protection Russia loses raw materials, food, stolen cars and other contraband items1497.

There is a number of most acute border security problems:

  • Lack of federal resources for adequately protecting the border. In practice, this is the regional administration who provide frontier troops with housing, transportation, energy supply, and building or overhauling frontier posts.

  • Substantial increase of the geographical area to be covered by frontier guards. According to Vladimir Egorov, Volga Customs director, one of the problems is that customs offices are located far away from border-crossing stations. The second troubling issue he addressed is the practice of recruiting customs officers among local population which increases possibilities for corruption.

  • Weak coordination between customs service, border-guards and railway authorities in preventing smuggling and other illegal actions.

  • Ethnic and religious extremism.

  • Uncertainty of Cossacks’ role in regional security arrangements. Before the 1917 Revolution Cossack units were quite instrumental in keeping order in the most dangerous and permeable zones of the state border. The current Russian government is not inimical to the revival of Cossack settlements, but they can hardly be considered as a substitute to the regular troops. The fears are that regional Cossack regiments could become out of control and side up with nationalist forces.

In Orenburg oblast Cossack units are in charge of pre-service training exercises of young men, and providing them with material allowance. In recent years Cossacks have started elaborating projects in education, environment, culture, trade and investments.

Ramil Mullaiamov, chief of South-Eastern regional department of the Federal Border Service, have said that this agency conducted an experiment with changing regular border-guarding troops to non-military units, yet it failed to bring positive results1498. Generally speaking, activities of Cossack units in border territories claiming to play more significant role in defending the border is a highly controversial issue. From one hand, the whole set of border-related matters can’t be solved without involving local population, including Cossacks as its most organized force. The Cossacks have their own - inherited from the past centuries - system of inspecting the borderland, which could compliment other security appliances (barbed wire, electronic alarm system, etc.). Yet on the other hand, by law Cossacks (as well as other self-ruled groups) are not supposed to participate in protecting the state border. Among factors that complicate interaction between the Cossack units and frontier-guards are widely spread among Cossacks nationalist and jingoist feelings, numerous complains from the local population accusing the Cossacks in extortion, and internal conflicts in the Cossack communities1499.

Because of all these problems the Orenburg oblast still failed to benefit from the opportunities that it has, and get rid of the “periphery complex”, inherited from the past1500. Foreign investments are still in a deficit in this border region. There is no conceptual clarity whether regional authorities should further strengthen immigration control or open up regional markets for foreigners1501.

Orenburg case also shows the deficiencies of the federal level policies. As Mikhail Alexseev rightly put it, the Russian government has failed to develop a coherent strategy for taking advantage of its border territories’ newly found potential for integration into the world economy. In its foreign policy concept, Kremlin did not emulate the strategies of devolution, subsidiarity, and trans-border regionalism that underwrote successful economic and political integration in Europe. Transit corridors and tourism projects have not become strategic priority in such potentially gateway regions as Orenburg oblast.

What is more, while discounting the economic benefits of internationalizing Russian economy through the “gateway regions”, Moscow amplified concerns over security matters1502. Thus, A.Scherbakov, deputy director of the Federal Border Service, gives an overextended interpretation of border security paradigm in Russia, referring to topicality and urgency of such challenged as “destruction of core political values”, “widening of social groups involved in illicit trans-border operations”, uncontrollable outflow of intellectual and cultural resources abroad”, and “loss of community solidarity”1503. Some commentators think that neighboring Kazakhstan is a “translator” of nationalistic feelings to the neighboring Russian territories1504.

To sum up, Orenburg oblast exemplifies two types of trans-border regionalism, and two different versions of neighborhoods: an exclusive and an inclusive one.


Apart from Russian domestic troubles, the big problem is that the West lacks a clear strategy towards Russia in general and its regions in particular. Many foreign donors seem to have “more money than ideas”1505. Some experts claim that in many fields of technical assistance there is no serious and comprehensive analysis of the work done by foreign institutions and its effectiveness. No comprehensive account of failures was accomplished so far, mainly because of the fear that such a report might provoke harsh criticism in the West and question the basic political and ideological assumptions of Western engagement. Legal reform is a telling case in point. Referring to Steven Holmes, “thus far, foreign legal advice to Russia has not done that country much good… The assistance community has failed to come to grips with the obstacles inhibiting the rule of law in Russia… Ironically, assistance programs have been undermining trust building. Typically, donor aid has the effect of peeling elites away from serving society by pressuring them to act in the interests of the donor in order to secure future funds”1506.

As there is no clear strategy, it comes to no surprise that there is also a lack of coordination between Western agencies and centers. In the opinion of Marten van Heuven, “intergovernmental organizations are poor cousins to bilateral contacts in implementing engagement with Russia. The West will continue to face the challenge of having to coordinate bilateral and intergovernmental channels to fashion an effective pattern of engagement with Russia… Without that, the array of presently available intergovernmental venues will only aggravate the lack of clarity as to Western means and objectives”1507.

Based on our analysis, some recommendations could be made.

  1. Foreign institutions should not treat regions (especially as pivotal as those studied in this discussion paper) as unitary actors - which is usually the case when it comes to analysis of relationship between the center and regions, or between regions themselves. Deeper comprehension of region’s international actorship is needed, to include more profound look at different intra-regional “agents of globalization” such as industrial enterprises, banks, NGOs, media, municipal authorities, and so forth. Each of them pursue individual strategies of switching to the global world and therefore should be tackled differently.

  1. Most of the foreign business, financial and commercial institutions operated in VFD face the problem of expanding their social horizons. It seems that their sphere of interest is overwhelmingly circumscribed by rather narrow professionally oriented circles of entrepreneurs, bankers, traders, etc. Unfortunately there are too few examples of effective and thoughtful public relations and media strategies implemented by foreign firms and companies in VFD. Lack of due publicity and clarity in articulating their strategic goals in the region worsens the public perceptions and attitudes towards foreign institutions and forms misperceptions of these institutions as exclusive clubs of self-interest, elite-driven and reluctant to make social commitments. Foreign actors have to be more explicit about their possibilities, explaining their methods, resources and tools as applicable to the region. This pro-active PR strategy might help in overcoming negative myths and stereotypes about globalization in the region. Foreign journalists and policy analysts could more frequently come to VFD and publicly discuss the issues of globalization in wider audiences (students, teachers, artists, writers, parties activists, social workers, NGO leaders, etc.).

  1. Many of international institutions in VFD do not still use their potential and advantages to the full scale. In Nizhny Novgorod, for example, Soros Foundation office, the British Council, the American Center in the Linguistic University, Unesco-funded structures, Peace Corps branch could switch from merely information units to region-wide cultural and social institutions integrating different social and professional interests in various fields of regional life (education, environment, volunteering, gender issues, fundraising, campaigning, etc.) Potentials of local alumni of numerous international exchange programs and the Association of Foreign Residents in Nizhny Novgorod are still underestimated and need to be recalled for the sake of bringing new expertise in regional reforms.

  1. The road to globalization should not be paved exclusively by regional or municipal administrators. To activate the involvement of wider social and professional layers in international exchanges and networks, it would be helpful if foreign governments insist on including different non-governmental groups in VFD regions’ delegations coming to various international forums (presentations, seminars, exhibitions, etc.). This will contribute to the process of opening new international perspectives for local NGOs.

  2. Sergey Kirienko as the most liberal and pro-democratic of all heads of the federal districts merits international support and special treatment. He is undoubtedly committed to reforms aimed at creating business-friendly environment in VFD. Kirienko’s efforts to integrate the VFD regions on market principles are worth of all possible intellectual, technical, organizational and other forms of international assistance. It is politically important to get positive feedback from international community in the initial period of creating new institutional structures in the federal district. Such issues as spatial development, subnational integration, inter-ethnic relations, borders and security, and others might be debated and tackled together by ad-hoc task forces of both local and international specialists.

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  • 4.1. Opportunities
  • 4.2. Challenges