The appointment of Aleksandr Khloponin to the position of presidential envoy to the newly formed North Caucasus Federal District marked the beginning of a new era for the North Caucasus elites, represented primarily by the presidents of that region’s republics –Ramzan Kadyrov (Chechnya), Mukhu Aliev (Dagestan), Arsen Kanokov (Kabardino-Balkaria), Boris Ebzeyev (Karachaevo-Cherkessia), and Taymuraz Mamsurov (North Ossetia). Those leaders are anxiously expecting new steps from the Kremlin’s freshly appointed permanent representative –Aleksandr Khloponin. The country’s high-ranking officials have been assuring Russian audiences from Moscow that they are ready once and for all to put an end to corruption, clannishness, separatism, and criminal elements in the region. Khloponin’s first actions –whom he leaves in power, sacks (or perhaps he will leave all the leaders in place try to sort out the situation without substitutions)– will signal either alarm or calmness to the local officials.
The issue of consolidating regions was urgent from the outset. Khloponin believes that actions of this kind are quite attainable. Above all, this can make the Chechen Republic and Ingushetia nervous, given that the two were part of one republic during the Soviet period (www.rosbalt.ru, January 22). Theoretically, the only other republics that can be integrated are Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. This move will deprive the Cherkess nationalists of a trump card. They are demanding unification of the related peoples (the Cherkess, Adygs, and Kabardians, who today reside in three different republics) into one Circassian Republic, while the Balkars and Karachays make up the major Turkic ethnic grouping. Finally, Northern Ossetia-Alania and Dagestan are difficult to integrate with any other republics.
The fact that Ramzan Kadyrov has continued to criticize the Kremlin’s new protégé in the North Caucasus speaks volumes about his inability to hide his disappointment concerning the possible reformation of relations with Moscow. According to Moscow’s most recent statements, all leaders of the North Caucasus republics are advised to maintain contact with the authorities exclusively through Khloponin, which of course can only upset those leaders, who thus far have enjoyed direct access to the Kremlin and the Russian government. The prominent and odious geo-politician, philosopher and the leader of Eurasian movement, Aleksandr Dugin, believes that the creation of a new district is directed above all against Ramzan Kadyrov. It is highly unlikely, however, that even Byzantine Moscow would create a whole federal district only to weaken the positions of a single (albeit the most loyal) leader of the North Caucasus. However, the move may be part of a complex attack by the federal center on one of the most problematic and dangerous regions of Russia.
Meanwhile, every local leader is trying to display his loyalty and desire to be useful. As far as the Chechen Republic is concerned, the best gift for Moscow would be the capture or elimination of a leader of the North Caucasus resistance movement, Doku Umarov. However, even the murder of one of the most notorious emirs (commanders) Abdul-Malik (Chingiskhan Gishaev) on January 19 near the village of Chushki in Chechnya’s Grozny rural district (the village is located at the entrance to the Argun gorge) did not create the effect that Ramzan Kadyrov counted on. The fact that emir Abdul-Malik was one of the closest people to Doku Umarov was known to very few people in Russia and in the Chechen Republic. In Russia, the difference between the various rebel commanders is not well understood. They are killed monthly and it is presented as a big victory over the resistance, although the militants for some reason are not diminishing in their numbers. This time, in order to eliminate the leader of the opposition movement, Kadyrov placed his entire arsenal involved under the command of the person most close and loyal to him, State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov (Chechnya’s Grozny TV, January 21). The elimination of an insurgent leader of the caliber of Doku Umarov would be an enormous gift to the FSB, the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin.
Following Putin’s suggestion to provide protection for human rights activists (www.last24.infor, January 24), Kadyrov immediately spoke out with a sensational statement that Boris Berezovsky was behind the murder of the well-known Chechen human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova (http://www.eurosmi.ru). However, colleagues and friends of Estemirova said immediately that this accusation was absurd and could not stand up to scrutiny (http://chechnya.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/164789/). It again proves the point that Kadyrov reacts very quickly to what Putin wants to hear from him. Therefore, all of Kadyrov’s statements should be viewed as if they were planned by Putin’s inner circle, or at least, as if they were Kadyrov’s attempt to please Putin.
Kadyrov’s ambitions are grandiose and, for the time being, they are, thanks to Putin, partly realized. For example, Kadyrov’s recent decision to construct a world-class skiing resort in the Chechen Republic –any doubts about the possibility of realizing such a grand project notwithstanding– is seen as an attempt to create the perception that there are no militants in the Chechen Republic (www.chechnya.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 28). But then the question arises as to who Kadyrov’s loyalists are fighting in the mountains? Kadyrov and the militants have completely opposite goals. Kadyrov on the one hand is trying to convince the world that everything is calm in Chechnya and that there are no militants there. On the other hand, the militants are attempting to convince the world that their insurgency remains strong and that their numbers, despite recent combat losses, are not decreasing. This can also be supported by an interview that Vakha Umarov, the brother of Doku Umarov, gave to Reuters. In that interview Vakha indicated that there are up to 3,000 militants in Chechnya, and up to 5,000 militants in all of the North Caucasus. Moreover, another point worth noting about the interview is that he noted that the militants are being helped by Ramzan Kadyrov’s inner circle. It is absolutely clear that militants are trying to create a problem personally for Kadyrov by making the Kremlin distrust him.
In any case, despite the numerous statements that Moscow is making these days about the North Caucasus, it is apparent that it does not have any reasonable solution for the North Caucasus problem. All we see now is another military campaign filled with the fantasies of Kremlin officials. On the other hand, such moves as the appointment of Khloponin as presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District may be part of Medvedev’s efforts to bring in his own people to create his own team, one independent of Putin’s.