On April 3, Kabardino-Balkaria’s parliament voted to reject direct elections for the republic in favor of appointment by the Russian president. Adalbi Shkhagoshev, a member of the republican parliament from United Russia, the country’s ruling party, told the newspaper Kommersant that the decision was taken to protect the locals. “This is an adequate solution for the situation in the North Caucasus—to wait for a little while and foil any radical forces’ attempts to take advantage of the situation in the North Caucasus and influence the situation, especially through elections,” he said (https://kommersant.ru/doc/2444394). The law mandating the appointment of governors in the republic is expected to pass the final, third reading by the end of April.
Shkhagoshev unwittingly confirmed that Moscow’s unofficial policy in the North Caucasus is to preclude the region’s residents from electing their leaders. Moscow is excluding the North Caucasus from Russian legislation on regional elections because it regards the region’s population as inherently disloyal and wants to keep it under tight control. The Russian central government’s treatment of the North Caucasus increasingly resembles a classic colonial arrangement.
Kabardino-Balkaria is the fifth of the seven North Caucasian republics to reject direct elections of the governor. The other four republics are Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Direct elections of governors were reintroduced in Russia in 2012 after large-scale protests against the rigged Russian State Duma elections in 2011. However, soon after the surprise liberalization of regional elections, the republics of the North Caucasus started rejecting direct gubernatorial elections one by one. Formally, they made this choice themselves, but in practice, Moscow’s pressure to do so was blatant, especially in Dagestan where the regional legislature reportedly resisted the appointment procedure for some time.
While some local bureaucrats in the North Caucasus may want to hold on to power, Moscow’s role in stalling the political development of the region is decisive. The Russian government’s involvement in suppressing popular political participation in Kabardino-Balkaria was highlighted by the Kavkazsky Uzel website, which discovered that the republic was not on the official list of Russian regions scheduled to hold gubernatorial elections in September 2014 (https://kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/240365/). Kabardino-Balkaria was excluded from the list despite the fact that the republic has not yet formally finalized the switch from elected to appointed governors. The decision concerning Kabardino-Balkaria and other North Caucasian republics must have been taken in Moscow some time ago. The regional puppets of the central government now simply rubber-stamp the relevant legislative packages.
Former Kabardino-Balkaria governor Arsen Kanokov was replaced by his nemesis, police Colonel General Yuri Kokov, last December. Moscow did not let Kanokov complete his second term as the republic’s governor. Even though official sources were quite reticent about the reason for Kanokov’s resignation, Moscow’s move must have been connected to the impending Sochi Olympics. In Moscow’s opinion, Kanokov failed to suppress the Circassian national movement, which was demanding that Russia recognize the Circassian “genocide” or move the Olympics from the Circassians’ historical homeland in the Sochi area to somewhere else.
Crimea may become the only majority ethnic-Russia region where the governor is appointed rather than elected. “Crimea may become the first region of the Russian Federation that has chosen the ‘Caucasian Model,’” Kommersant said in a commentary. “However, this model is unlikely to proliferate to other regions of Russia” (https://kommersant.ru/doc/2444394).
Moscow’s insistence on the appointment procedure for the North Caucasian and Crimean governors is not just a coincidence. The rationale behind the Russian government’s decision is that Moscow does not trust the local population in either the North Caucasus or Crimea enough to allow them to elect their governors directly. This means that despite the nearly 100-percent vote in Crimea in favor of joining the Russian Federation, which Moscow hailed, it did not sufficiently reassure the Russian government, which still fears that the population of Crimea could switch sides and vote for an unfavorable candidate in direct elections.
Appointed governors will predictably have low popularity and will be unable to control the situation in their respective republics. The Dagestani weekly independent newspaper Chernovik conducted an improvised text poll that asked people to vote for a set of potential presidential candidates in the republic. Several well-known Dagestani politicians, including the previous president of the republic, Magomedsalam Magomedov, took top spots in the ranking. The newspaper apparently considered it inappropriate to report how the current head of Dagestan, Ramazan Abdulatipov, did in the poll, so it just wrote that he received “a low result,” even though the experts did name him the most influential politician in the republic (https://chernovik.net/content/politika/narodnyy-prezident-dagestana-versiya-30-podvedyom-chertu).
By dividing the Russian regions into “loyal” and “disloyal,” Moscow is hardening the rifts in the Russian Federation. The clear ethnic coloration of Moscow’s political preferences undercuts the very legitimacy of its increasingly old-fashioned colonial rule in the non-Russian regions of the country.