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Abolishing regional presidents could hang on Tatarstan

Kazan, TatarstanMoscow's bulldog in the Caucasus, Chechnyan President Ramzan Kadyrov, set what looks to be trend last week, when he announced he was changing his title from President of the Chechen Republic to something less grandiose.

Regional stickler Tatarstan has not yet made any firm announcements but chances are that it will follow in due course.

"I'm convinced that a single state should have only one president, and top regional officials should be referred to as heads of republics, heads of [regional] administrations, governors and so on," Kadyrov said in a statement.

However, Kadyrov's implied demotion chimes nicely with a government plan to strip regional presidents of their current titles ­ and perhaps remind them who's boss.

The time is ripe

"The timing is very well chosen," Carnegie Centre Analyst Alexei Malashenko told The Moscow News. "Because [former Tatar President] Shamiev and [former Bashkir President] Rakhimov have left their seats." Shamiev stepped down in February and Rakhimov in July.

In 2008 Shamiev blocked the Tatar duma's decision to change the leader's title from president, after North Ossetia had gone ahead with the move in 2005. Now Shamiev is gone and Rustam Minnikhanov holds the helm, a figure the Kremlin sees as more biddable. "Shamiev was a key figure in Russian politics...he is still a very powerful figure and they (Moscow) prefer to deal with Minnikhanov," Malalshenko said by telephone.

Central control

"The move has been discussed here all the time in Moscow and it is logical. It is directed against the idea of federalism," Malashenko said. The Kremlin wants equality among the regions and it has got off to a good start with Kadyrov's announcement. He has a special relationship with his Moscow masters and the change in title will cost him little, no-one expects him to lose any real power in the transaction.

Tatars bide their time

If Tatarstan has not yet leapt on to the bandwagon of change with enthusiastic cries, that is to be expected and the republic has not given a firm 'no'. "Tatarstan has not refused to do this," Deputy Director of the Institute of Social Systems Research at Moscow State University Dmitry Badovsky told The Moscow News. "There were no direct comments either way from the republic's president or from Shamiev. There was some scepticism from the press-secretary but little more."

"To start the process in Tatarstan would not have been wise. ... Therefore they decided to begin the process in the North Caucasus," Analyst at Kazan State Technical University Sergey Sergeyev told the Regnum news agency.

Tatarstan has traditionally led the regions in federal discussions and Kazan's apparent reluctance could show no more than "a desire to distinguish themselves from the other republics," Badovsky said. "More likely than not, when it comes to the actual amendments they will not show any active resistance. They will show skepticism and will stress their unique position as leader in federal discussions." The foot shuffling is to show face to the public and the local elites.

Sergeyev added that Tatarstan might well have to follow, when all other regions have abolished their presidents and only a Russian and a Tatar president remain. "That would be totally unreal," he said.

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