Vienna, January 25 – Having appointed Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Khloponin to head the new and predominantly Muslim North Caucasus Federal District, President Dmitry Medvedev has named Khloponin’s former deputy Edkham Akbulatov, a practicing Muslim, to serve as head of that predominantly Russian Far Eastern kray.
On the one hand, Akbulatov’s elevation is an entirely natural and quite possible temporary promotion, one that some will see as an effort by Medvedev to maintain a kind of ethnic and equilibrium or to signal that the Kremlin intends to pursue an ethnically “neutral” approach in the future.
But on the other and precisely because of the likelihood of that interpretation, Akbulatov’s elevation, together with Khloponin’s new posting, seems likely to generate concerns among Russians and non-Russians alike that Moscow plans to ignore what many of each group had viewed as a settled entitlement to particular positions in particular regions.
In reporting Akbulatov’s appointment, “Rossiiskaya gazeta” said that “both for the local political elite and for business circles, this decision did not come as something unexpected.” Akbulatov, the paper pointed out, is “a native Siberian,” born in Krasnoyarsk in 1961 and educated there (www.rg.ru/2010/01/20/krai.html).
An engineering graduate of the local polytechnic and of the Moscow Engineering and Construction Institute, he began rising through the ranks of construction and planning agencies in Krasnoyarsk in 1994. In 2000-2001, he was retrained at the Moscow Academy of Economics in state and municipal planning and received an MBA.
In December 2002, he became deputy and then head of the main kray administration for economic development and planning, and in October 2005, he was named deputy governor and head of the department of economics and planning. Then in July 2008, he became deputy head of the kray government and in October, head of the kray government.
At the time of his appointment, Akbulatov was in the hospital having suffered a broken leg while skiing. But “Rossiiskaya gazeta” reports, he has already held his first meeting with the key officials of the kray and indicated that he has no plans to change either the policies or personnel of his former boss.
“Rossiiskaya gazeta” stressed that Akbulatov is “a native Siberian,” an important characteristic for people in that region. But Muslim news outlets have pointed out that he is also a practicing Muslim, one of 44,000 Siberian Tatars and 350,000 followers of Islam in Krasnoyarsk kray (www.ansar.ru/rfsng/2010/01/20/1031).
Gayaz Fatkullin, the mufti of Krasnoyarsk kray, told the media yesterday that Akbulatov is “frequently” seen attending the Cathedral mosque in the city of Krasnoyarsk, one of more than 15 mosques in the kray, among which is one in Norilsk, which celebrates itself as “the most northern mosque in the world.”
It is not unprecedented for a non-Russian to serve as a governor in an ethnically Russian region, but Akbulatov’s appointment is likely to attract particular attention because the appearance of Muslim gastarebeiters let alone practicing Muslim officials in traditionally non-Muslim areas is a matter of growing concern among Russian nationalists.