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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2.3. 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 legislation1766. 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)1767. The Customs Board of Tatarstan was rearranged and subordinated to the Volga Customs authorities1768. 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”1769, 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 issue1770. 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 parliament1771.
To counter-react, Tatarstani leaders had 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 legislation1772.
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 state1773.
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, Adygeya and Dagestan) that are not satisfied with “ten-per-cent” clause because it makes impossible to form electoral districts based on ethnic background1774. 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 republic1775. 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 house1776. 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 means1777.

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”1778. The Communication Board of Tatarstan was rearranged as the federal unit1779. Some local experts have started discussing conditions of Tatarstan’s entry into an enlarged region, should the federal center take this decision1780. 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 Constitution1781. 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 1782. 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 appointed1783.

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 Federation1784. 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 Russia1785.
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 VFD1786). 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”1787. As a symbol of easing tensions between Tatarstan and Russia1788, 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 issue1789, 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 Code1790) that were either better than the federal ones or unique. Sergei Kirienko, the representative of the Russian President in the Volga Federal District (VFD), 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 up1791. 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 economy1792. Kirienko praised Tatarstani authorities for their understanding of the need to build up “integration chains” with other regions in order to be competitive abroad1793. 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 stated1794. 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”1795: 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 regions1796. 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.
2.4. Sovereignty and Foreign Policy Issues
Aspiring for free and autonomous foreign policy Tatarstan refers to a number of arguments. First, the power-sharing agreement signed with the federal center stipulates that Tatarstan is an associated state. This provision distinguishes Tatarstan from all other subjects of the Russian Federation.
Second, international practices of trans-regionalism are a strong source of international self-assertion. Thus, Vladimir Pustogarov, the senior scholar at the Institute of the State and Law, Russian Academy of Sciences, assumes that it very hard to legally define what exactly is meant by “the subject of the international law”. In his opinion, should the member of the federation wish to participate in international exchanges, no additional recognition or confirmation is needed at all. What is most important is that the powers of the region in international issues ought to correspond to the national constitution and international obligations of Russia1797. These are the most customary limitations imposed on the sovereignty of the federal units in other federations.
Tatarstan aspires to conduct foreign policy in its capacity as the state rather than one of Russian regions. It develops external relations with a wide range of different international actors with different weight and status. Among them are not only nation-states, but also other actors, like Quebec province, Saxony land, Buhara region of Uzbekistan, Madrid Autonomous Community, the state of South Australia, Carroll Foundation (Great Britain), “Open Society Institute”, Export- Import Bank of the USA, etc.
Quite symptomatically, debates about Tatarstani international participation were extended to raising the citizenship issues. Formally, agreements between the Russian Federation and several ethnic republics (including Tatarstan) had stipulated that citizenship issues ought to be tackled by those republics themselves. The conflict unfolded as soon as the implementation of those provisions has started. The federal center is fearful that introduction of Tatarstani citizenship would signify the appearance of the double citizenship unacceptable for Moscow. The head of Legal Department of the administration of the President of Tatarstan Raisa Sakhieva has assured nevertheless that her government still sticks to the principle of common citizenship but reserve the right to set their special rules related to the citizenship, as well as grant Tatarstani citizenship to those individuals who don’t hold Russian citizenship1798.
President Shaimiev underlines that Tatarstan does not encroach upon federal powers in defense issues, border demarcation, customs and financial policies. Yet in 1994 Tatarstan had signed the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation with Abkhazia, Georgian region seeking full independence. This act provoked protest from both Georgia and Russia since it was interpreted as encroachment upon territorial integrity of Georgia1799.
Tatarstan had demonstrated that its foreign and security policy approaches are very much different from that ones of Russia. The table below might help visualize these differences.

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  • 2.4. Sovereignty and Foreign Policy Issues