The two presidents do not conceal their selfish interests
One may call Vladimir Putin the collector of the Russian land. Boris Yeltsin's legacy did not make the new Kremlin owner happy. Oligarchs have divided the country into sectors, governors have tried to obtain as much sovereignty as possible. Boris Yeltsin used to say: "Take as much sovereignty as you can swallow." So they did. The federative state has turned into the confederation of republics. The Russian Federation had to face a distant danger of collapse.
One has to give Vladimir Putin credit: the president tried to impede the process and make it go backward. As a result, the institute of presidential envoys has been established in Russia. Envoys have to solve a very hard problem - to control Russian governors. The latter were not happy about it, for they did not have enough time to taste the unlimited freedom. However, they realized that a federative state allows to solve problems in a much more efficient way.
There are two people, who show resistance to Putin's efforts to set up the vertical of power: Mintimer Shaimiyev (the president of the Tatarstan republic) and Murtaza Rakhimov (the president of Bashkiria). They have been using national peculiarities and Asian traditions successfully for quite a while. However, presidential envoy Sergey Kiriyenko made them settle down three years ago, or it seemed so, at least. Yet, recent events have cast doubts about it.
Presidents Rakhimov and Shaimiyev are members of the Supreme Council of the United Russia party. That is why, senior politicians have turned a blind eye on their selfish opposition (until the pre-election campaign is over). However, regional leaders started using the party of power in their own purposes: regional divisions of the party started working for Shaimiyev and Rakhimov.
The Russian Supreme Court has recently allowed Muslim women wear traditional hijab kerchiefs for passport photographs. The foreign ministry is trying to appeal against this decision, though. Here is another example of separatist sentiments in the mentioned regions. Mintimer Shaimiyev, the President of Tatarstan has recently declared his intention to stand for the sovereignty of the region. The president particularly said that in his address to the State Council of Tatarstan. Shaimiyev continues criticizing Moscow for infringing the perception of federalism principles. Shaimiyev was also not happy with the fact that Moscow was not ready for any concessions. It goes about the new version of the Tatarstan Constitution and the protest of the Russian Office of the Prosecutor General about several paragraphs of the document.
Probably, the Tatar president believes that the Kremlin will need him in the future. Mintimer Shaimiyev has contributed a lot to the establishment of the pro-presidential United Russia party. The Kremlin did not risk to attack a political partner.
Yet, no one doubts that the federative reform will accelerate after the elections in 2003 and 2004. Experts are drawn to believe that Vladimir Putin is not likely to participate in the presidential election as a candidate from United Russia. Shaimiyev does not hesitate to call things by their proper names: declaring the support of the party of power in the republic, the president does not conceal that he is doing it for selfish reasons. "Our active participation in the United Russia party has been dictated with a necessity to stand for Tatarstan's interests and to form an influential group of republic's deputies in the Russian parliament," Mintimer Shaimiyev was quoted as saying.
Very interesting events are happening in the Bashkiria republic as well. The republic elected the State Assembly of Bashkiria on March 17th, 2003. United Russia party members made up the majority of the assembly with President Murtaza Rakhimov's help - 91 mandates out of 120. However, spokespeople for the "Putin's party" suggested the agreement on privileges between Bashkiria and the Russian Federation should be reanimated.
Shaimiyev and Rakhimov's revolt was an action against the federal center and Vladimir Putin's program of reforms. A lot of experts believe that the governors, who support United Russia, have managed to obtain all levels of power in their regions. Speaking of the United Russia party, one may say that it looks like an octopus, the head of which does not know, what its tentacles do.
On the photo: Mintimer Shaimiyev (left) and Murtaza Rakhimov (center).