Ottawa, November 12 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for a approach to the North Caucasus, one that represents a departure from and thus an implicit criticism of the one now in place and associated with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in which regional heads have been allowed enormous latitude as long as they are loyal.
Medvedev devoted a significant portion of his presidential address to the problems of the North Caucasus, including among other things instability, serious corruption Chechnya and Ingushetia, economic problems, and the lack of educational opportunities for young people in that region (www.vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/politika/11443.html).
Specifically, he argued that “the situation in the North Caucasus would not be so difficult if the social-economic development here were more productive. It is obvious that the source of many problems, above all is in the economic backwardness and absence of the majority of residents in this region of normal life chances.”
“Let us say openly,” Medvedev continued, that “the level of corruption, force, and clan operations in the republics of the North Caucasus is unprecedented. Therefore, we will devote the very first attention to the resolution of social-economic problems of the citizens” in that troubled region.
Such a relatively honest admission that the situation in the North Caucasus has not improved and may be getting worse calls into question the praise Putin has lavished on Kadyrov and others like him and thus casts doubt both on Putin’s judgment and on the prime minister’s much-ballyhooed success in stabilizing the situation there.
But however that may be, the Russian president’s most important proposal is for the establishment of the position of a special “boss” for the North Caucasus who would have sufficient power to act on the Kremlin’s behalf on all issues, a position Medvedev did not further describe but one that clearly represents a challenge to the system Putin erected.
If such a person were to be at all effective, he would have to be able to overrule not only the presidents of the republics of the region but also the head of the Southern Federal District, thus undercutting a major part of Putin’s “power vertical” in the name of bringing stability to the North Caucasus.
Such a post and its occupant almost certainly would raise two sorts of questions: On the one hand, is this the first step toward a wholesale shift in the way in which Moscow runs the country and signals the possibility that Medvedev will create “bosses” for other regions of the country as well?
And on the other, if the Kremlin leader does so, where does that leave the “power vertical” that Putin has invested so much time and energy in erecting? Will these two structures come to blows? And if so, will those struggles be a proxy for a much bigger battle between Medvedev and Putin?
Because of that, the struggle over a Moscow “boss” for the North Caucasus is likely to be among the most contentious issues in the Russian capital in the coming weeks. And this in turn could mean that some of the other personnel matters now before the president – including the replacement of Moscow’s Luzhkov or Tatarstan’s Shaimiyev – could be delayed.
Or, and this is yet another likely complication, fights over a boss for the Caucasus could become interwoven with these other political contests forcing both those in Moscow and those in the regions to rethink their tactics and favored candidates, shifts that also could have a potentially profound effect on the future of Putin’s preferred system of rule.