Vienna, January 20 – President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to create or more precisely to restore a North Caucasus Federal District – it existed at least on paper for a brief time in May 2000 -- and to name a former Krasnoyarsk governor to head it appears likely to backfire on its author both in the region this measure is intended to pacify and elsewhere as well.
Yesterday, Medvedev announced that he was dividing the current Southern Federal District into two parts, the Southern in which will remain Astrakhan, Volgograd, and Rostov oblasts, Krasnodar kray, the Adygey Republic and the Kalmyk Republic, and the North Caucasus Federal District.
The latter will include the republics of Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alaniya, and Chechnya, and Stavropol and have its headquarters in Pyatigorsk. And the Russian president named Aleksandr Khloponin, a former governor of Krasnoyarsk, who will simultaneously serve as a vice prime minister under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
As Kavkaz-uzel.ru pointed out, this is “not the first attempt” by a Russian state to create “a North Caucasus kray.” At the end of the imperial period, “a large part of the territory of the current North Caucasus republics, with the exception of Central and Southern Daghestan and Karachay-Cherkessia, formed” one unit (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/164427/).
During the Russian Civil War, the peoples of the region formed the Mountaineers Republic, something that over the course of the 1920s, the Soviets disbanded, dividing up the region and pursuing a classically imperial “divide and rule” strategy that continues to cast a shadow (kvkz.ru/history/2372-problemy-formirovaniya-sistemy-avtonomij-na-severnom-kavkaze-v-nachale-1920-x-godov.html).
Then, in 1929, Stalin created a North Caucasus kray which for five years existed “in those borders in which the new federal district has been created, except that the majority of [today’s] republics were then autonomous oblasts,” a lower status that few in the North Caucasus have forgotten.
And then in May 2000, as Sergey Markedonov points out today, Putin sketched out a North Caucasus Federal District, which was to be one of eight such institutions designed to build “the power vertical” and help increase Moscow’s control but which was cancelled before it could be institutionalized (www.politcom.ru/9451.html).
None of those efforts was satisfactory to the powers that be at the center, and all were disbanded more or less quickly. The latest one is likely to meet the same fate, first and foremost because of the consequences it will have in the North Caucasus itself, consequences that people elsewhere will clearly see.
First of all, as Yulia Latynina points out in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” today, this moves shows that “Moscow does not administer the Caucasus, neither at the level of Moscow nor at the level of the republics, not at all. … What is the deeply ill system doing [now]? The answer is very simple: it is simulating administration.” (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=9808).
Moscow is doing so, she says, by crating yet another level of “non-administration” on top of another. “If they administer things poorly, then it will be necessary to change presidents there. If Ustinov in the Southern Federal District works well, then it isn’t necessary to have a separate North Caucasus district. If he works poorly, then for state Ustinov should be removed.”
Second, this new arrangement, which many analysts have pointed out, is intended not only to reduce the amount of violence but also to rein in Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov who has greater freedom of action than Jokhar Dudayev had when Chechnya was explicitly pursuing independence (svpressa.ru/politic/article/19919/).
But because the new presidential representative is also subordinate to Putin, who is the chief protector of Kadyrov, it is very difficult to see how Khloponin will be able to control someone who not only has that personal link to Moscow but who has his own armed forces and is quite prepared to ignore the center (www.apn.ru/opinions/article22302.htm).
And third, although Medvedev (and Putin) appear to have taken this step to “clear the way” for the Sochi Olympics by suggesting to potential investors and visitors that Sochi is not in the troubled “North Caucasus” but in peaceful South Russia, that strategy, especially given the borders drawn, is not likely to work (slon.ru/blogs/chernicki/post/241352/).
Indeed, two specialists on the region are suggesting today that what Medvedev has done may make the convention of the games in Sochi more difficult, not less. Avraam Shmulyevich, an expert based in Israel, says that he is struck that the two federal districts divide the Circassian nation (www.apn.ru/opinions/article22300.htm).
. Most of the Circassian peoples are in the new North Caucasus district, but the Adygeys are part of the South Russian one, an arrangement, Shmulyevich argues, suggests that Moscow may re-start its effort, begun in 2006, to fold in the Adygey Republic into the surrounding and predominantly Russian Krasnodar kray.
At the very least, he argues, this new division could lead to a reduction of contacts between the Adygeys and their fellow Circassians in the North Caucasus district, infuriating both and likely leading them to expand their efforts to block the Sochi games currently scheduled to take place at the site of the tsarist expulsion of the Circassians 140 years ago.
More generally, Shmulyevich points out, Medvedev’s action “separates the political concept of ‘the North Caucasus’ from the geographic one” and defines the border between the North Caucasus and South Russia on a fundamentally different and inevitably disturbing basis.
“Now,” he says, “the North Caucasus is more or less where people are shooting, and South Russia is where they are not shooting. Shmulyevich’s conclusions are shared by Madina Skindaneva, who argues that it is impossible to believe that Moscow did not know what it was doing in this regard (www.apn.ru/column/article22295.htm).
But as serious as these problems are, the way in which Medvedev’s action is likely to backfire elsewhere may be even greater. First of all, as the president and his aides admitted, they were announcing steps even before they had the constitutional and legal authority to do what they were doing, another Moscow action that undermines its authority.
Second, with his appointment, “Khloponin becomes the first person in the power vertical who is formally subordinate at one and the same time to both Medvedev and to Putin. To the president in the political sphere and to the prime minister in the economic one,” however difficult and even impossible it may be to divide these (novopol.ru/text80542.html).
Not only is that likely to create confusion in Pyatigorsk. This arrangement is likely to spark concerns among officials elsewhere that such structuring of positions is the next step of the Moscow “tandemocracy,” concerns that could generate resistance or alternative lead ambitious people to try to undercut current officials.
And third, Khloponin as he freely admits has no experience in or knowledge of the North Caucasus. Medvedev chose him because of his reputed accomplishments as a manager, an approach that suggests the current Russian leader thinks that the problems his country faces have more to do with management shortfalls than political choices.
On the one hand, that necessarily represents a threat to members of titular nationalities other than Russian who are certain to see this as the opening move in a new game in which Russians will be inserted where the local nationalities have assumed they are a prior right, the kind of step that Mikhail Gorbachev adopted with such disastrous consequences in Kazakhstan.
And on the other, it means that the central powers that be either will have to become more authoritarian to make such measures stick or will face the prospect that not only people in the North Caucasus but elsewhere as well will resist Moscow’s efforts, something that will make Russia even less governed than it is today (www.russ.ru/pole/Krizis-menedzher-na-Kavkaze).
(Paradoxically, there may be one Russian official who is entirely happy about this: Khloponin himself. Not only does he now have a chance to operate on a stage which could lead to preferment in Moscow, but as one news service pointed out, this appointment gets him out of his old region with all its technogenic problems (www.ari.ru/news/?id=3411).