Eugene Chausovsky Eugene Chausovsky is one analyst and writes on Russia, Eurasia, and also the center East
Kul Sharif Mosque in Kazan Kremlin. Among the largest mosques in Russia/Getty images

In considering the most necessary cities in Russia, the is inevitable that Moscow and St. Petersburg top almost everyone’s list. These space the political, economic, and cultural centers of the country, replete with Russia’s most renowned landmarks, like the Kremlin, Red Square, and the Winter Palace. Together, they type the main point of Russia, at as soon as the centers of power and those historically target by Russia’s enemies, from Napoleon to the Nazis.

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Yet in contemplating the future the Russia, a 3rd city could someday sign up with the ranking of these 2 juggernauts: Kazan, the funding of the an ar of Tatarstan. Located almost 450 miles to the eastern of Moscow, Kazan might seem an i can not qualify occupant of such a role. Yet Kazan offers perhaps the clearest illustration the Russia’s identification as a transcontinental, multiethnic nation straddling both Europe and also Asia. And as Russia’s demographics transition in the coming decades away from a mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian populace to one that is progressively Muslim and also non-Slavic, the country’s an extremely national identity is likely to evolve. In this way, Kazan can serve as both crucial symbol and also harbinger for points to come in Russia, one the foreshadows both challenges and opportunities because that the country.

Kazan hold no small place in Russia’s long and storied history. It remained in this city in 1552 that Ivan the damaging vanquished the Tatars that the Kazan Khanate, one of the successor states to the Mongol horde that ravaged and ruled end Russia for centuries. Ivan’s victory served as Russia’s last stand against the Tatars, and also the Siege the Kazan, as it became known, collection the stage for Russia’s colonial expansion eastward into Siberia and central Asia and westward right into Europe. This, in turn, served as the catalyst for what would at some point turn the proto-state of the grand Duchy the Muscovy under Ivan the damaging into the Russian realm centuries later.

Yet, as Russia ongoing to expand and joined the table that the premier early american powers that Europe, that never completely fit in amongst the Continent. This was because, uneven the distant, overseas empires of nations like England or France, Russia’s empire was contiguous, covering the plains, steppes, and also mountains the the substantial Eurasian landmass. Thus, Russia’s imperial expansion lugged in not just multitudes that non-European, oriental peoples — native Tatars and Bashkirs come Chechens and also Ingush — but likewise incorporated their cultures and political traditions to a greater level than go the early american powers of western Europe. This included the spiritual influence that Islam, as well as a political legacy of a highly centralized state revolving roughly a strong, practically mythical leader — even if it is in the form of khan, czar, or president.

This fostered a unique identity in ~ Russia — at as soon as European and also Asian, yet not entirely component of the West or the East. This was reflected both geographically, through Russia stretching across both continents, and also in the country’s cultural and politics makeup. This is a phenomenon that has actually persisted to this day, v Kazan offer to epitomize the mix of East and also West the serves as a an essential part that Russia’s identity in the modern era. Indeed, Kazan is among the most diverse cities in Russia, with its populace of end 1.2 million people evenly split in between ethnic Russians (48.6%) and also ethnic Tatars (47.6%). The Tatar and Russian languages deserve to be heard in about equal measure up walking the city’s streets, and also Kazan’s architecture mixes eastern and also western formats throughout the city.

Nowhere is this diversity clearer than on the grounds the the Kazan Kremlin (there are, in fact, many kremlins in Russia; the term simply refers to a “fortified main complex,” dozens that which can be found in cities across the country). Alongside the Kremlin’s administration buildings and the Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral stand the Qolşärif Mosque, with its facade that white tiles, turquoise dome, and also four piercing minarets. Inaugurated in 2005 with the aid of Saudi Arabia and the joined Arab Emirates, Qolşärif is the largest mosque in Europe exterior Istanbul. It is a testimony to the lengthy roots of Islam’s affect in Russia and also its coexistence through Orthodoxy, having actually been rebuilt 4 centuries ~ the initial mosque was burned down in Ivan’s conquest.

Outside the the Kremlin grounds, there are plenty of other examples of Kazan together a melt pot the Western and Eastern influences. There is the holy place of every Religions, a complicated that residences not just an Orthodox church and a mosque but additionally a synagogue and pagoda, amongst others. There room the plenty of tea shops and also halal restaurants to be found throughout the city, wherein one can discover waitresses wearing headscarves and also groups the Tatar and also Chechen guys sitting and chatting over tea.

Despite this diverse cultural influences, Kazan is unmistakably a modern-day Russian city. Indeed, Kazan is currently one of the largest and wealthiest urban in the country, and is amongst the optimal 10 urban in Russia, according to gross city product. The region of Tatarstan is the website of significant oil and also natural gas production, and also Kazan is additionally a big industrial hub, v petrochemical plants, food handling centers, and factories developing military equipment. More recently, Kazan has emerged as a tech hub, real estate one that the largest IT parks in Russia. No coincidentally, the city has been branded together “The third Capital of Russia.”

Like other significant cities in Russia, Kazan also faces its fair share the challenges. The city’s politicians have actually been accused of corruption, and Tatarstan has periodically been the target the Islamist activity. In 2020, because that example, Russian defense services reportedly recorded Islamic State cells there that were allegedly planning to command a collection of assaults in Russia prior to joining various other Islamic State battle aircraft in Syria. However Kazan and the Tatarstan an ar — on account of its much more developed economy and mainstream form of Islam — has actually avoided the large-scale militant activity and terrorist attacks that have actually plagued more turbulent Russian republics like Chechnya and also Dagestan.

Of course, like countless other multiethnic, multi-religious countries, the mix of Russia’s European and Asian identities is not constantly fluid. The nation has its same share of right-wing and ultranationalist activity, and also migrants and also ethnic decimal can often be the targets the harassment or violent attacks. In this way, Kazan is no exception. One of the city’s occupants I speak with, a Tatar guy in his mid-40s, told me that he feeling that any problems in Russia are always blamed on among three groups: Tatars, Jews, or Chechens. Russia is quiet an imperial country, he said, it just comes in different and more subtle develops nowadays.

Another resident i spoke with, a woman in her at an early stage 30s, discussed similar challenges. She had actually grown up in the Siberian city that Krasnoyarsk, though she was born in Uzbekistan and also her maternal grandparents to be Korean. She said that she had felt different growing up in Russia, with world sometimes pointing and laughing in ~ her because of her appearance, periodically calling she “Asiatka.” yet now she had actually a effective career, functioning in finance at an international company after going to a trustworthy university in Moscow, and she felt more comfortable in she skin. She said it felt great to be unique and also that she had actually no intentionally of leaving Russia despite substantial opportunities because that doing so.

Yet one more Kazan resident, a indigenous of the phibìc Caucasus republic that Ingushetia, said me the ethnic discrimination can come in many forms, such as the broadened security check at Russian airports from any kind of flights the come native Ingushetia and other north Caucasus republics. He had lived in Kazan for decades, moving there to study business and also then eventually beginning his very own pharmaceutical sales company. His grievances had an ext to execute with the regulatory environment in Russia: You have to pay a lot of taxes if you very own your very own business, that said, and also it might be bring away by the government at any time. Nevertheless, he claimed that the was feasible to have actually success in the country even if you space an ethnic minority, suspect you have the ideal connections. The invoked an adage and also title the a famous book around life in the brand-new Russia: “Nothing is true and everything is possible,” introduce to the simultaneous and sometimes disorienting mix the opportunities and challenges facing residents in the country.

Such dynamics are likely to it is in accentuated more as Russia’s demographics change in the comes decades. Currently, Muslim communities as a whole make up at least 10% of Russia’s population of 142 million people, i m sorry is currently 2-3 times the dimension of the largest Muslim populaces in plenty of European countries. However, the number is projected to boost to as much as 30% the the population in the coming decades because birth rates amongst ethnic Russians (1.3 children per woman) space on average far lower 보다 those the Muslim areas (2.3 children per woman). Follow to U.N. Estimates, Russia’s overall population is projected to decrease by almost 7% by 2050, therefore Russia’s Muslim population can be meant to continue to grow in both absolute and also relative terms.

This trend might accelerate even further if Russia chooses to make up for its ns of overall populace by allowing for higher immigration — v the likeliest sources coming from nations in the Caucasus and main Asia. Such resources of immigrant resemble the social and spiritual features that Kazan much much more than, say, Saratov or Novosibirsk, i m sorry are much less ethnically diverse. And it is such former Soviet republics — native Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan come Tajikistan — that currently share historical and cultural ties to Russia, making your citizens’ adaptation easier than outside of the region. Thus, indigenous a demography perspective, Russia is likely to significantly approximate the East-West blend of Kazan in the comes years and also decades, and this will undoubtedly impact the social and also political trajectory the the country.

This additionally has far-ranging implications because that Russia’s national identity, which has undergone many iterations in recent decades, native the communist ideology of the Soviet Union, which preached socialism and ethnic harmony, to the brief flirtation with capitalism and democracy in the early on years of the Russian Federation in the 1990s. The former broke down under economic inefficiencies, army overreach, and a geopolitical struggle with the united States, when the latter spelled disaster for Russia, resulting in the rise of oligarchs and two bloody separatist conflicts in Chechnya.

What followed in their wake is the modern Russian era, encompassing the critical two decades under president Vladimir Putin, who has actually forged a new path. Putin revitalized stability ~ above the residential front by reining in the oligarchs and co-opting the Chechens, eschewing free democracy for strong presidential rule. The course, this renewed stability came at a significant cost, consisting of clampdowns on independent media, journalists, activists, the LGBT community, and also all genuine political opposition. What changed them was a strength vertical and also intolerance to dissent, as the recurring saga with opposition leader Alexei Navalny shows. Russia additionally took ~ above a an ext confrontational stance v the West if reestablishing itself as an assertive local power in the former Soviet sphere, as checked out from Georgia come Ukraine. Russia became even an ext active in an overwhelming the United states globally, from intervening militarily in Syria to boosting economic and security ties v China. Putin has actually pushed an identity for the country that emphasizes stability and Russia’s return together a great power, i beg your pardon in turn has fostered farming Russian nationalism.

However, Putin has actually been mindful to regulate Russia’s conference tendencies ~ above the residence front, knowing that he should incorporate not only ethnic Russians but likewise the country’s numerous minorities into this nationalism. Putin knows that Orthodox Slavs are not the only face of Russia and that he risks alienating the big and farming minorities in pursuing a strong nationalist line, hence undermining the stability that he has actually sought come reinstate in the brand-new Russia. The exact same goes for religious support, together the Kremlin must reconcile Orthodoxy with Islam. As such, the brand the nationalism that Putin has come to champion rests on promoting the greatness that Russia itself, no ethnic Russians in particular. The toughness of the Russian state therefore rests as lot on being able come reconcile and also successfully mix its internal distinctions as its capability to overcome outside challenges and pressures.

To it is in sure, this has actually not to be done seamlessly, as displayed by Russia’s crackdown versus Crimean Tatars adhering to the addition of Crimea in 2014 and periodic attacks versus Russian security pressures by Islamist teams in Chechnya and elsewhere in the country. And also preserving stability is most likely to become even more facility and daunting in the future, post-Putin era, when Russia may not have the sort of entrenched leadership that is able to balance the various political and also security challenges on the house front and also externally. Add to this a shifting demographic photo coupled with disruptive technologies, and also the situation may prove to it is in combustible for Russia.

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Which brings us back to Kazan. The city has displayed up to currently that Russia’s diverse ethnic and spiritual communities deserve to coexist in a relatively stable fashion, albeit no without tensions and also periodic difficulties. But the question remains regarding whether Russia together a totality can winter Kazan together the country’s demographics transition and that is political mechanism inevitably evolves, or even if it is it will certainly go in a an ext unstable and also volatile direction. In ~ stake is nothing less than Russia’s future.