Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Defends Regional Leaders Lest It Look Weak, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 11 – The Kremlin is prepared to defend embattled regional leaders lest it “create the impression that it will make concessions” to the population either there or in Moscow itself, according to an analysis of the way in which the central Russian government has dealt with much-criticized Ingushetia leader Murat Zyazikov.
In an article published in “Gazeta” on Monday, Sergei Markedonov, a leading Russian specialist on ethnic affairs in the post-Soviet states, argues that a petition campaign directed against Zyazikov and his increasingly ineffective regime confronts the Kremlin a most difficult choice (
If Moscow makes any concession to “’the opinion of the people,’ then this would in fact open the way for regional ‘color revolutions’ when unsuitable heads of republics, krays or oblasts will be permanently subject to replacement by the changing attitudes of the population,” creating a situation in which “one could finally forget about stabilization.”
But if it does not respond, Markedonov says, if Moscow continues to “ignore social protest” then it will contribute not only “a lowering of the level of the republic powers that be” but also to a decline in the authority of the federal center at the same time, something that could create an opening to an even broader popular challenge to the government.
Having detailed the complicated political history of Ingushetia, a North Caucasus republic where many people would like to see the ouster of Zyazikov and a return to power of former President Aushev, the Moscow analyst argues that Moscow’s changes in cadres across that region have failed to achieve its goals.
Over the last two years, Moscow has installed new presidents in Daghestan, North Osetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeia and Chechnya. But, Markedonov points out, these changes were “technological rather than strategic” and were taken “without a broad public discussion” that might have brought more effective leaders to the fore.
Indeed, he continues, “up to now the Kremlin has not clearly formulated the goals and tasks of its policy in the Caucasus region,” and consequently, “the Ingush opposition figures” have chosen to promote their own goals by setting at odds “well known leaders” from the past against “the new bureaucratic creatures.”
Markedonov does not explicitly link this problem to Vladimir Putin’s decision to appoint regional leaders rather than have them elected by the population, but Moscow’s current dilemma is clearly related to that, something that makes the Moscow analyst’s words more rather than less significant.
But in addition, Markedonov calls attention to the growing role of the ordinary citizens of the Russian Federation in the current petition drive. “To protest today in our country is not fashionable,” he notes, and “those who attempt to defend their civil rights and political positions are in advance categorized as marginals.”
“In the best case, they are advised to ‘wait a little,’ when the new period of stagnation will be replaced by a new ‘perestroika,’ and in the meantime, it is suggested that they should focus on other things, a form of dismissal that may work when only small groups are involved but one that will almost certainly fail when as many people are involved as in Ingushetia now.
And that makes the Kremlin’s reluctance to follow the lead of the people both more understandable and more dangerous. Understandable because any move could spark additional demands elsewhere around the country, but dangerous because a failure of Moscow to respond soon could undermine one of the most important things the Ingush petition drive shows.
That drive, Markedonov says, “is based on a faith in ‘a just center.” Those writing and signing the petition did not turn to the United Nations or the OSCE as many smaller groups routinely did. They wrote to the Russian government, hopeful that it will respond to what they see as their entirely just and justified demands.
Consequently, “if Moscow continues to remain silent,” Markedonov concludes, that faith could be shattered, in which case the Ingush people will seek other means, and then “it will hardly be possible to call them loyalist anyone,” a shift with as potentially profound consequences as Chechnya’s earlier drive for independence.

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