Author: Gela Khmaladze, Research Fellow at Rondeli Foundation


Over the last two years, since the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian armed forces, certain political and expert circles have anticipated that the social and economic challenges arising from the prolonged and exhausting hostilities will eventually precipitate a political crisis in Russia. According to them, one of the most likely outcomes of this crisis is the amplification of separatist sentiments in regions inhabited by Russia’s ethnic minorities. It has been suggested that the ongoing activity of these separatist movements will lay the political groundwork for initiating a process of decolonization throughout the Russian Federation in the future.


The federal entities in the North Caucasus and Volga-Ural regions are regarded as potential areas for such developments. To substantiate this possibility, it is imperative to address the question of the extent to which the necessary political foundations and social support exist for the initiation of such separatist movements in these regions.


We would like to examine the perspective of separatism using the example of the Republic of Tatarstan. Compared to other subjects of the Russian Federation inhabited by ethnic minorities, this republic appears, at first glance, to have the highest chance of succeeding in political separatism, considering the following factors:

– Tatars represent the most numerous ethnic group living in the Russian Federation after ethnic Russians;

– Tatars have a historical experience of independent state life in the form of the Khanate of Kazan, unlike other ethnic minorities living in the Russian Federation, who do not have such historical memory or experience;

– The Republic of Tatarstan stands in contrast to other economically challenged regions inhabited by ethnic minorities, as it is one of the most developed and self-sufficient regions in Russia. This success can be attributed to several key factors, which we will delve into further below.


It is crucial to explore whether these factors alone serve as sufficient conditions for the initiation of a separatist movement. Equally important is assessing the willingness of the ethnically Tatar political elite and broader society to remain principled and committed to realizing this political idea.



The struggle for identity and sovereignty


Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Tatarstan embarked on a challenging and distinct path compared to other regions within the Russian Federation. In the waning years of the Soviet era, a widespread national movement emerged in Tatarstan, advocating for the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan, which was part of the then Russian Federal Republic, to become the sixteenth allied republic of the Soviet Union. However, after the collapse, in the early 1990s, the objectives of the Tatar national movement underwent a significant shift, with the demand evolving towards secession from Russia and the attainment of full state independence. The celebration of October 15 – the Day of Remembrance of the Tatar warriors who died during the capture of Kazan by the Russian army – has become a symbolic and sacred date for the Tatar community. In the same period, political organizations expressing the national ideology were created, the most numerous and influential of which were the All-Tatar Public Center, the Tatar National Independence Party, and the Milli-Majlis of the Tatar People.


The current leadership of the Republic of Tatarstan supported and encouraged the mentioned national political organizations, and provided significant organizational and material assistance. However, in the end, it turned out that the then-president of the Republic of Tatarstan, Mintimir Shaimiev, was merely using the national movement and the idea of the republic’s sovereignty to influence the Russian federal government. In the process of “blackmailing” Russia, the large enterprises owned by the state, primarily in the sector of oil extraction and processing, ended up in the hands of the Shaimiev clan as a result of the privatisation carried out in the republic.


As a result of the agreement on the separation of powers signed between the Russian federal government and the Republic of Tatarstan in 1994, the ruling circles of Tatarstan received extensive preferences and rights from Moscow regarding the disposal of economic and financial resources. Notably, the republic was granted an exemption from federal taxes. With such concessions from Moscow, the ruling circles of the Republic of Tatarstan ceased openly supporting the national movement. It can be inferred that after achieving their own economic goals, the existence of a national movement lost relevance for the political and business elites of Tatarstan. Specifically, there was no longer a need to use it as a lever to try to influence the Russian federal government.


Since 2010, following an increase in repression within the political regime in Russia, the activities of organizations promoting national ideology have gradually been curtailed in the Republic of Tatarstan. Many leaders have thus far been removed from political activity under charges of extremism. As a result of this repressive policy, the national movement of the Tatar people has lost relevance and popularity within society, seeing the national ideology shifting from open public activity to online fora and scientific research organizations. Presently, the efforts of small and marginalized groups advocating the Tatar national idea are focused on uniting the Tatar ethnic group scattered across various subjects of the Russian Federation outside the Republic of Tatarstan. They aim to foster a shared national and cultural identity, as well as to ensure the use of the Tatar language in public spaces and educational institutions.


It is worth noting that of the 5 million ethnic Tatar citizens residing in the Russian Federation, only 2 million live in the Republic of Tatarstan itself. The remaining 3 million are dispersed, and have settled in other subjects of the Russian Federation, where the process of losing their ethnic identity and assimilating into the Russian cultural space is occurring at a rapid pace.



“Tatarstan’s  economic miracle”


The Republic of Tatarstan stands out as one of the most economically successful entities within the Russian Federation. Considering fundamental economic indicators, it follows closely behind Moscow and St. Petersburg.


What determines the economic success of Tatarstan? How sustainable and stable is its development? Are there objective conditions for the Republic of Tatarstan, in the event of hypothetical independence from the Russian Federation, to continue its development and state reconstruction with the same degree of success?


Russian experts themselves single out three main factors that directly impact the high rates of development of the Tatarstan economy, propelling this republic to be a recognized leading region of the Russian Federation in terms of annual economic growth:


  • The oil and gas sector: As a result of the federal agreement signed between the Russian federal government and Kazan, revenues generated from oil and gas extraction, sales, and the refining sector, remain within the Republic of Tatarstan. Consequently, the significant rise in world oil prices during 2000-2010 proved particularly advantageous for the region. This concession from Moscow has led to the oil extraction and refining sectors contributing to 30% of the gross domestic product of the republic, with annual revenues from these sectors filling more than half of the republic’s budget;


  • Geographical location: The Republic of Tatarstan serves as a critical hub for major transit highways connecting the European and Asian parts of the Russian Federation, boasting logistics centres of federal significance. 1.4 trillion rubles were allocated from the federal budget to Tatarstan for the modernization of Russia’s transport infrastructure between 2015 and 2030. Furthermore, the ongoing construction of the new transit corridor “Vostok” (tentatively named “Western China – Western Europe”), traversing Tatarstan, aims to accelerate and streamline the transportation of transit cargo from the western provinces of China and Kazakhstan to European countries;



  • The so-called “Tatar lobby”: The coordinated policy of the leadership of the Republic of Tatarstan towards the Russian federal government, and their loyalty to Moscow, led to the mobilization of state investments and targeted subsidies from the federal budget in this republic. The influx of substantial financial resources has catalyzed the simultaneous rapid development of several strategic sectors of the economy, including construction, petrochemistry, the chemical industry, and machine building. Through the efficient utilization of funds allocated by the federal investment program, the Republic of Tatarstan continues to maintain its position as the undisputed leader among the federal subjectTop of Form


In recent years, the Republic of Tatarstan has continued to firmly occupy one of the leading positions as the most attractive investment region of the Russian Federation. However, more than 90% of the annual investments in this republic are not private or foreign, but rather federal state investments. This indicates that the government’s privileged and protectionist economic and investment policies have rendered the Republic of Tatarstan heavily dependent on the Russian federal budget and, consequently, on the goodwill of the Russian government.


The term “political favouritism” is often used in high political circles of Russia when discussing the remarkable economic success of the Republic of Tatarstan. Consequently, in the event of significant political changes in Russia, the federal government holds a range of economic levers to ensure that the economic well-being, sentiments, and priorities of both the political class and business elites in Tatarstan, as well as its society as a whole, remain politically aligned with Moscow.





When expert circles discuss the prospect of possible separatism of the Republic of Tatarstan, the potential for economic development and the possibility of the independent existence of this republic, the following important circumstances must be highlighted, which, we think, make the independent development of the Republic of Tatarstan impossible, both from an economic point of view and in terms of it ever becoming a full-fledged international political entity. In particular:

– The Republic of Tatarstan has no common border with any other state and is a territorial enclave within the Russian Federation;

– The infrastructure and economic production resources on the territory of the Republic of Tatarstan are completely integrated into the federal economic space of Russia, and the stability of the economy of this republic is completely conditioned by the favour of the federal centre and the protectionist policy;

– The Tatar ethnicity is strongly integrated into the common Russian political and cultural space. At the same time, the majority of ethnic Tatars live outside the Republic of Tatarstan, in other subjects of the Russian Federation. This factor makes it impossible for this ethnic group to concentrate on the idea of political independence.


Another important point to consider is that, during interviews, the majority of political experts in Russia say they believe that in the post-Putinist era, if the irreversible process of democratisation begins in the Russian Federation, the main determining factor of the relationship between the federal center and the regions will most likely be the economy, particularly the economic interests of these regions themselves.