Last weak Adygeya was rocked by the unexpected announcement of the local president’s resignation, followed quickly by an even more surprising reversal. On April 4 the president of Adygeya, Khasret Sovmen, announced his resignation during a session of the republican parliament. Although his press service denied that he had indeed quit, Sovmen vacated the Government Palace (see EDM, April 6). A source in the Adygei branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) told Kommersant newspaper that Sovmen had left Maykop, the capital, for his private residence in the country, escorted by a motorcade consisting of several cars. A source said the president took with him gifts, souvenirs, books, and other personnel belongings from his office in the Palace (Kommersant, April 7).
However, Sovmen’s dramatic departure was partly a bluff. Subsequent developments indicated that the Adygei leader was determined to resist the Kremlin’s attempts to get rid of him or force him to accept the unification of Adygeya with the neighboring ethnic-Russian-dominated Krasnodar Krai (see EDM April 6, and April 29, 2005).
Several hours after the parliamentary session where Sovmen had issued his resignation, the United Russia parliamentary faction (the biggest faction in the legislature) held a special meeting and appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend Sovmen’s authority by another term. Alexander Lazunin, head of the faction and a Sovmen supporter, organized the party meeting and the appeal to Putin. Thus, ironically, the Adygei branch of United Russia, the party that is usually identified as “pro-Kremlin,” had challenged Moscow’s decision.
Several hours later Dmitry Kozak, the Russian president’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, called Sovmen. According to Radio Liberty, Kozak demanded that the Adygei president resign immediately and sincerely. Kozak tried to explain to the president that the regional economy was in very poor shape and that the incorporation of the republic into Krasnodar Krai was the only solution. Sovmen refused to resign and turned off his phone (Radio Liberty, April 7). Nobody could find him during the following day, April 5. As it turned out, the Adygei president used that day to prepare a counteroffensive against Moscow.
While the Kremlin, shocked by the staunch resistance from a regional leader, hesitated about what to do next, Sovmen decided to flex the force and influence that he has in the republic. In addition to the United Russia parliamentary faction, the Adygei leader also was buoyed by wide public support. On April 6, thousands of people from all towns and districts of Adygeya, delegations from Karachai-Cherkessia, a Caucasian republic adjacent to Adygeya, and Shapsugia on the Black Sea coast attended a rally in Maykop, Regnum news reported (April 6). The heads of Adygeya’s districts, the local branch of the United Russia party, and influential regional public organizations like the Circassian Congress and the Union of Women of Adygeya all took part in organizing the rally.
Rally participants backed Sovmen’s policies, condemned manifestations of xenophobia and fascism in Russia, decried law-enforcement agencies’ inability to foil the activities of nationalist and fascist organizations, and said that any speculation about changing the status of the republic of Adygeya would be unacceptable. “Adygeya is our sole ethnic home in the world, under protection of great Russia,” they declared, “and there will be no second home.” The protesters demanded that the heads of territorial branches of federal state agencies should be replaced in accordance with new procedures approved by a Russian presidential decree that says that appointments should be coordinated with regional leaders. The protesters expressed their full support of Sovmen’s policies and called on him to continue his work.
This show of force was a major challenge to the Kremlin. Sovmen used public support to demand from the Russian authorities not just an extension of his presidency, but also more power for himself, such as the right to control Adygei branches of federal state agencies. Yet Sovmen did not stop there. At the same time as the rally in Maykop, the Adygei president’s followers initiated a public campaign against presidential envoy Kozak. Aslan Matizhev, head of the budget committee of the local parliament, accused Kozak of trying to force Sovmen to incorporate Adygeya into Krasnodar Krai (Kavkazky Uzel, April 6) and Tatiana Glogoleva, a member of the Board of the Union of Women of Adygeya, said that, as the Adygei president was under pressure from the Southern Federal District, he needed special support (Caucasus Times, April 6).
The impudent manner by which Sovmen bargains with the Kremlin can be explained by the circumstances of Adygei society. President Sovmen knows quite well that if Moscow kicks him out and if the republic merges with Krasnodar Krai, Adygei youth will turn to a powerful neighbor who is carefully watching the crisis in Adygeya from the shadows — Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev.