In The Accidental Superpower I noted that while the Chechens will always be a thorn in Russia’s side, that a different Muslim ethnic group — the Tatars — are the ever-present dagger to Russia’s heart.
Unlike the Chechens who are a semi-cloistered mountain people nestled in the Caucasus and so rarely leave their homeland, the Tatars are modern and cosmopolitan. They sit at the merger of the Oga and Volga rivers — the pair of navigable waterways elevate Russia to something more than just a wide-ranging country endowed with resources. As Accidental readers know, navigable waterways are the bedrock of economic success. They enable a people to establish internal trade, build their own capital, and move up the value-added scale organically.
Both the Oga and Volga are Russian rivers, but their junction is at the Tatars’ homeland. The Tatars also happen to live atop most of the major infrastructure that connects Russia to Siberia. Should the Russians ever lose control of the Tatars, they cease being a regional power, much less a global one.
In the past couple of years, Tatarstan has been simmering. Economic breakdowns, Kremlin confiscations of the regional oil company (Tatneft), and more recently a banking crisis. It’s been on my list to write about, but last night my former employer, Stratfor, beat me to the punch. Strat and I differ on many things of course, but they’re a great one-stop-shop for international news, analysis and intelligence that is so obviously lacking in national global media these days.
I’m happy to say that Stratfor was lost without me when I left back in 2012, but I’m even happier to say that they seem to have found their way in the years since — and are once again churning out some great work. This article, IMO, is emblematic of that.
Russia’s Eyes Focus on Tatarstan by Stratfor