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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shakhrai: Tatar Pact Saves Federation

Nationalities Minister Sergei Shakhrai on Wednesday hailed a new bilateral agreement between Russia and its restive, oil-rich republic of Tatarstan as the salvation of the Russian federation Wednesday, calling the negotiations that yielded it a model for talks that might even bring the breakaway republic of Chechnya back into the fold.

In Tuesday's agreement, Russia ceded to Tatarstan considerable economic powers in return for the republic's renouncing demands for special status within the Russian Federation, Shakhrai said in an interview Wednesday.

Opposition parliament deputies rang alarm bells, led by Sergei Baburin, who said that the signing of an agreement "between a state and part of that state" set a dangerous precedent that weakened the Russian Federation.

But the government painted the concessions as a peaceful way of defusing the instability created by increased demands for power from Tatarstan and Russia's other 20 ethnically defined republics. At a press conference Wednesday, Shakhrai called such agreements the only alternative to "disintegration."

"Treaties of this kind are basically the sole constitutional way of removing contradictions between the federal constitution and republican constitutions in a civilized way, without twisting anybody's arm," President Boris Yeltsin told Itar-Tass on Tuesday.

Tatars, whose ancestors once ruled much of European Russia and were defeated in 1522 by Ivan the Terrible, make up 48 percent of the 3.8 million residents of Tatarstan, located 800 kilometers east of Moscow.

It is unclear which constitution takes precedence in the agreement, signed Tuesday by Yeltsin and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shamiyev, though on some points the agreement appears to override Tatarstan's.

It defines Tatarstan as "a state united with the Russian Federation by the constitutions of Russia and Tatarstan and by this agreement," according to Shakhrai, while Tatarstan's constitution calls the republic a "sovereign" entity "associated" with Russia.

"Tatarstan moved towards a compromise by not insisting on the wording giving them some kind of superstatus or something," Shakhrai said after the press conference.

"Russia yielded, let's say, the ambitions of the center to decide everything in Moscow, and will leave to the republic a larger sum of tax revenues."

With those concessions, Moscow appears to be exercising a kind of damage control, accepting Tatarstan's de facto seizure of broader powers. Since 1991, Tatarstan has sent decreasing proportions of its taxes to Moscow, defied price liberalization and flown its own green, white and red tricolor.

"The laws of the Russian Federation were actually not working in Tatarstan, and that in itself was a dangerous, in fact abnormal, situation," Shakhrai said.

Shakhrai said Tuesday's agreement set out a strict division of powers between Moscow and Kazan based on 11 separate economic agreements.

He said that "methodology" resolving specific local concerns rather than wrangling over broad sovereignty demands could settle the even pricklier feud with Chechnya, which has declared itself independent.

He said the first such agreement would be with Kaliningrad, giving the geographically separate Baltic region expanded powers over customs, transportation and communications.