The simmering crisis in the Karachaevo-Cherkessia region of the North Caucasus has turned violent. Relatives of the seven disappeared shareholders in the local Kavkaztsement factory, tired of waiting for their loved ones’ murderers to be punished, have seized the government headquarters in the republic capital.
The current crisis began on October 10, when the seven shareholders confronted Kavkaztsement majority shareholder Ali Kaitov at his dacha. The seven men never returned home, and neighbors reported hearing gunfire near the dacha. Compounding the suspicious scenario, Kaitov is the son-in-law of republic president Mustafa Batdyev (see EDM, October 27).
The unpopular and corrupt Batdyev is still clinging to his position thanks only to support from the Kremlin, which is afraid that his resignation, forced by popular demands, would undermine plans to make regional leaders accountable only to the Russian president, not popular opinion.
From the very beginning, the Kremlin has tried to offer non-political concessions to the citizens of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, and Boris Karnaukhov, the deputy department head in the Prosecutor-General’s Office who is in charge of the investigation, have been trying to calm the relatives by arresting more and more suspects. President Batdyev promised on October 26 that criminal proceedings would start soon (grani.ru, October 26). On the same day, Batdyev’s press secretary announced that the investigator from the local Ministry of Interior Affairs had been charged with “negligence.” He is accused of hushing up evidence of shootings near Kaitov’s country house, where the shareholders were last seen (grani.ru, October 26).
These moves did not satisfy either the relatives or the local political opposition. The former demands punishment for Ali Kaitov, whom they believe to be behind the murders, while the opposition wants Batdyev to resign. Locals suspect that the authorities are trying to divert attention from Kaitov, a local oligarch who had helped Batdyev win the presidency (yufo.ru, November 9). Kaitov refused to give evidence to investigators on October 27, the same day the local Prosecutor’s Office announced that Kaitov could not be involved in the case (grani.ru, October 27). President Batdyev has tried to protect himself by declaring that his daughter divorced Kaitov (grani.ru, October 29).
Nevertheless, these moves have failed to improve the situation, and the atmosphere in the republic is becoming increasingly tense. The opposition organized another rally in Cherkessk, the republic’s capital, on November 1. Their demands have not changed: Batdyev and all the heads of local law-enforcement agencies must go (yufo.ru, November 1).
On November 6, an announcement came that two more suspects (bringing the total to 12) had been arrested in St. Petersburg (grani.ru, November 6). These two persons must have given some leads to their interrogators, because the remains of four shareholders were discovered in a mine near the village of Kymysh on November 8. According to NTV, the bodies had been dismembered, then tied to rubber tires, and burned. The police continue to search for the other bodies (yufo.ru, November 8).
When the news about the discovery began to spread across the republic, there were calls for a new rally. Aware of the consequences, on November 8 Kozak appealed to the population to not make political demands during the rally (yufo.ru, November 9). Local authorities, clearly playing for time, attempted to switch the date of the rally from November 9 to November 10 (gazeta.ru, November 9). However, nothing could dissuade the popular fury, and on November 9 an angry group marched to the square in front of the government palace in Cherkessk. The authorities fenced off the palace with metal barriers and deployed special police units specifically called in from the nearby region of Stavropol (gazeta.ru, November 9).
When the rally started, somebody from the palace tried to switch off the microphones and loudspeakers that the opposition had installed on the square (grani.ru, November 9). Then, according to yufo.ru agency, at 11:00, investigator Karnaukhov came out of the palace and started to tell the gathering crowd about the progress of the interrogation. As soon as he said that it would be difficult to prove Kaitov’s involvement in the murder, the crowd rushed forward, trying to grab him, but Karnaukhov and his entourage immediately fled inside the palace (yufo.ru, November 9).
NTV coverage showed OMON special police units surrounding the building and using tear gas and water hoses, but they failed to stop the crowd. People used rocks to shatter the windows and metal barriers to break down the doors. Government officials, police, and Batdyev himself ran away, leaving the palace in the hands of the opposition.
NTV showed hundreds of people streaming into Batdyev’s office, where they found luxurious furniture and a huge portrait of Vladimir Putin. More than 200 demonstrators stayed in the office, claiming that they would not leave until Batdyev announced his resignation. They even threatened a hunger strike. According to grani.ru, Batdyev sent a negotiator who told the people that the president would not leave, but the rally inside and outside the government palace continues (grani.ru, November 9).
The Kremlin, caught in a trap, will have to make a difficult decision about whom to support in this situation: the crowd or the totally discredited president. Moscow seems to still be hopeful that it will keep Batdyev in his seat, but there is more and more evidence to prove that it will be possible only through violence. The Kremlin is not interested in Batdyev himself, but afraid of a domino effect, of setting a precedent where by an angry mob can unseat a regional leader.