Wednesday, January 17, 2018

By Defending Federalism, Is Minnikhanov Becoming a Martyr or a More Powerful Player?



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Addressing the Gaidar Forum this week, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov said Moscow should not change its power-sharing relations with the regions for five years, an appeal some say sets the stage for his exit as a martyr to the cause and others view as a sign that with regard to Russian Federalism he is still very much a player.

            For the past quarter of a century, Tatarstan has often been the chief defender of federalism in Russia, first under Mintimir Shaymiyev and then under Minnikhannov. But a string of recent defeats – on its power-sharing treaty with the center, the republic’s banking system, and on language issues – have cast doubt on that role.

            Many have faulted the current Tatarstan president for failing to speak out more forcefully on all of those issues; but yesterday, he reiterated his call that Moscow leave current relations between the center and the region untouched for five years and touched off a debate on why he is saying that now (business-gazeta.ru/article/369675 and regnum.ru/news/polit/2368663.html).

            Some observers have concluded, Regnum’s Ivan Shilov says, that “the open provocation of the federal authorities may cost Minnikhanov dearly in all respects,” including leading to his loss of position; but other argue that the Tatarstan leader’s words are not out of order and that “he doesn’t intend to go anywhere.” By staking out this position, he is displaying his power.

            In his remarks, Minnikhanov said that everyone else at the meeting wants to change relations between Moscow and the regions but that he is opposed and wants things to remain “untouched” for five years to give region or republic head a chance to work and show what he or she can do.

            “Each subject,” he continued, “is capable of deciding on its powers. Are you afraid to trust them?  If this or that leader isn’t up to these tasks, change him, show your distrust. How is it possible to administer such an enormous country from Moscow? You have the leaders of the regions and it is necessary to trust them.”

            Kazan’s telegram channels are now debating what these words portend. One suggested that it is “possible” Minnikhanov hasn’t taken to heart the lessons he should have derived from his defeats over the last two years or alternatively that he knows he is on the way out and wants to do with “the halo of a martyr for the rights of the regions” by striking this position.

             But a second telegram channel says that by openly “provoking the federal authorities” with his remarks, Minnikhanov may discover that this will cost him more than he thinks. He could “lose everything” and even end up in prison as have several other former governors in recent times.

            Alternatively and more likely, this channel says, the Tatarstan president may have enough support in Moscow that he knows exactly how far he can go, presenting himself as a defender of Tatarstan and federalism without crossing a line as far as Moscow is concerned that could lead to his untimely ouster until he wants it – and then with “a soft landing.”   

            However, a third channel suggests that Minnikhanov’s words may have Moscow’s implicit blessing. By raising an issue of general concern in non-Russian areas, this channel says, the Tatarstan president is in fact helping the Kremlin achieve its chief goal now: raising interest in politics and hence raising participation in the elections.

‘Better than the Chinese?' Central Asians Coming to and Reviving Dying Russian Villages



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Most gastarbeiters from Central Asia head to major Russian cities; but some who come from agricultural areas in their home countries are moving into Russian villages that would otherwise likely disappear in the near future. Their role in saving these traditional Russian settlements has sparked a sharp debate.

            On the one hand, many of the leaders of these villages are pleased with the new arrivals who work hard, don’t drink, are polite and have proved more prepared to do whatever is necessary to save the villages that are their new homes, a sharp contrast to native Russians whose children are leaving and who themselves often drink to excess rather than work to change things.

            On the other, many Russians in these villages and even more Russians in cities who have read about this trend are outraged not only by the suggestion that Tajiks and Uzbeks may be able to salvage what Russians have not but also by the presence in the most Russian of areas of people they consider to be alien.

            The latest round of this controversy was triggered by an article on the Fergana News portal describing the remarkably happy life of Tajik families from the Gorno-Badakhshan district of their country who have moved to the village of Rozhdestveno in Tver Oblast (fergananews.com/articles/9741).

            In that article Mansur Mirovalyev, a Fergana journalist, says that the Tajiks speak their own language, have large families, and settle their own disputes but have impressed officials and residents there with their happy upbeat approach to life, their large number of children, and their commitment to bringing the village back from near death.

            The Tajiks there “aren’t afraid of work in contrast to the native population,” Dmitry Kirdanov, the head of the village administration, says. “They are unaggressive and cultured people, and the main thing is that they don’t drink.”  They have large families and their children now make up half of the pupils in the local school.

            But others are not so pleased. In the words of one native, “better [the Tajiks] than the Chinese” but not much better.”   

            Central Asian migrants are an increasing feature of Russian villages: Only one in 12 Russian residents of these places says that there are now migrants in his village.  But many of the Russians are afraid that as a result, they will end up a minority in their own land and many appear ready to sacrifice the Russian countryside rather than allow Central Asians to save it.

            Today’s Novyye izvestiya surveys the debate about the Central Asians now living and working in Russian villages. It cites both those who see no problem in the arrival of Central Asians and others who say it will lead to the imposition of a new alien “yoke” on Russia (newizv.ru/news/society/17-01-2018/vopros-dnya-spasut-li-migranty-russkuyu-derevnyu).

            But what appears to animate many is less fear about the future of Russian villages than about what this development says about Russians and Central Asians.  If the Central Asians represent “the bright future of the Russian villages,” some ask, then what fate can possibly await Russia, Russians, and their way of life?

            Not surprisingly, in one self-selected poll conducted by one website, only six percent of those who responded said they didn’t have any problem with Central Asians living in Russian villages, but 90 percent declared that in their view such people should be “forcibly sent back” to where they came from (dostalo.livejournal.com/824564.html).

36 Russian Athletes Withdraw from Meet in Siberia to Avoid Being Tested for Drugs



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – If anyone doubts that doping remains a serious problem in Russian sports, a report today from the Siberian Federal District should put that to rest.  When 36 competitors at an athletic meet there found out that they were going to be subjected to drug tests by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) before competing, they withdrew.

            Some had begun to take part in the competition, the Lenta news agency says, but left as soon as they heard about the required tests. Others were waiting for their races to be called but withdrew as well once the word got out about the RUSADA officers’ arrival (lenta.ru/news/2018/01/17/legkootldope/).

            Moscow and its supporters can be counted on to put the best possible spin on this. After all, they will say, it was a Russian government agency that was responsible for conducting such tests.  But the reality is that this news can hardly be welcome in Moscow because it shows just how deeply rooted the doping culture is in Russian sports.