Kremlin Trying To Force Tatarstan To Drop Title Of ‘Republic President’ – OpEd


Since 2010, the Kremlin has sought to force Russia’s federal subjects to call their most senior officials “heads” rather than presidents on the basis of the logic expressed by Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov that Russia should have only one president, Vladimir Putin.

All the regions and republics have complied – with one notable exception: Tatarstan. Its leaders have resisted repeated efforts to force it to change its constitution and laws on this point, effectively blocking the will of the center. What is remarkable is that now, Tatarstan leaders appear to be on the brink of doing so yet again.

The IdelReal portal provides a comprehensive chronicle of this history, of Moscow’s efforts, the compliance of other republics and regions, and Tatarstan’s resistance in a detailed new article, as a lead up to reporting the possibility that despite the expectations of nearly everyone, Kazan may do the same once again (

The end for Tatarstan’s resistance appeared to be imminent when the Russian Duma adopted a law in December 2021 that specified that all republics would have to eliminate the position of republic president and call the individuals who had been occupying that position “heads” instead by January 1, 2023.

The measure passed despite the no votes of six United Russia deputies from Tatarstan, who recognized that the measure was directed against their republic, and Putin signed it into law, The first and second Tatarstan presidents, Mintimir Shaymiyev and Farid Mukhametshin indicated that Tatarstan would obey and change its constitution.

But – and this is the important detail – Kazan has not announced any plans to change its constitution on this point despite their promises. And the announced agenda for the last meeting of the republic’s State Council for this year – set for December 15 – does not make any reference to any plans even to discuss such changes.

If the State Council doesn’t make the change this month, then Tatarstan will be acting according to its own constitution but in direct violation of federal law. It is possible that some face-saving measure will be taken, but it is also possible that Kazan will simply continue to have a president even though Moscow says it can’t.

Most observers of Russian affairs assume that if Putin gives an order and has his parliament rubber stamp it that everyone will immediately fall in line. That is not true in a number of cases, but Tatarstan on the issue of the title of republic president has clearly set a record both for obstruction and for the public ways in which it has carried that out.

 If Moscow does not win this round, not only will Tatarstan be encouraged to take more independent actions on other issues; but other republics and regions will also be encouraged to resist, believing that if Kazan can do this given Putin’s weakened state, so can they – or at least that it is worthy trying.

If that proves to be the case, then January 2023 could mark the beginning of a turning point in relations between Moscow and the federal subjects, a remarkable development given that the issue involvedshould never have been an issue at all. Except for Putin, Kadyrov and their acolytes, most Russians could have lived with republic presidents without difficulty. 

That they chose to make it an issue is yet another example of the ways in which Putin’s overreach is now coming back like a boomerang on his regime. 

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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