By Paul Goble
Responding to Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov’s complaint about Moscow’s unilateral taking of more funds from the regions – see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/12/minnikhanov-slams-moscows-unilateral.html — Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev declared that “Tatarstan must know its place” and not expect any concessions from the center (vip-rm.info/?p=2806).
In short, what the Moscow leader was saying is that Tatarstan should simply put up and shut up rather than think that it has any rights even to raise the kind of question that is likely on the minds of many in regions from which more money is being taken and thus the Russian constitution’s talk about federalism is just that, talk and only talk.
In a commentary for Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov and Artur Khaziyev says that Medvedev’s hardline is certain to be counter-productive not only in Tatarstan but across the Russian Federation however popular it may make him in Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin (idelreal.org/a/28202502.html).
At a time of economic difficulty and budgetary stringency, they write, it is “completely natural that donor regions don’t like paying more to the central budget and thus it is a normal situation when one of their heads expresses dissatisfaction about such things.” To act otherwise, as Medvedev has done, thus is profoundly troubling.
In Russia today, however, “such natural expressions are viewed as thunder from out of a blue sky,” as something that should not be tolerated, Fayzrakhmanov and Khaziyev say. Indeed, as they point out, Medvedev directly declared that all such talk “on this issue must “stop now.”
Medvedev’s reaction, they continue, is “a disturbing signal not only and even not so much for the regions. It is one for the country as a whole. The stability of the political system is the result of maintaining a balance of interests in it, among various social strata, among people with varied views, and between donor regions and donor recipients.”
After all, as they reasonably point out, “how can a balance of interests be found if the various sides are prohibited from raising them?” And that is especially true when there is an economic crisis and when the pie to be divided is getting smaller not larger, forcing money to be shifted from one group to another.
Thus, it is wrong to dismiss what Minnikhanov said as a reflection of Tatarstan’s special case as the only republic with treaty relations with Moscow and as one of the few donors. “It s completely possible,” the two analysts write, that he “expressed what almost every second subject of the federation now thinks.”
And that is especially likely to be true today, Fayzrakhmanov and Khaziyev conclude, “when requirements for spending are being shifted onto the shoulders of the regions while incomes are ever more being concentrated in Moscow.” In short, Medvedev hasn’t ended this conflict: he has simply raised the stakes.