Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 102

In the wake of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s visit to Karachaevo-Cherkessia on May 25, the republic’s government has resigned. The republic will be led by a provisional government headed by Igor Ivanov, speaker of the regional Duma, until the republic’s Supreme Court and Central Election Committee makes a ruling on the second round of elections for the republic’s head, which was accompanied by charges of fraud (NTV, RTR, May 25). Stepashin said yesterday that a provisional government is the only way out of the difficult situation, that it will help stabilize the situation in the republic, maintaining interethnic agreement and peace in the republic. The prime minister said there had been many violations in the elections for Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s head, and did not rule out the possibility that the elections might be repeated. This would appear to mean a “transition” period lasting six months to a year. It cannot be ruled out that Moscow will try to apply the Dagestan scheme in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. In Dagestan, the republic’s head is chosen not by popular election, but by its State Council (the highest executive organ, made up of representatives of the main ethnic groups in Dagestan). This scheme, however, has not saved Dagestan from conflicts (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 26).

The Kremlin’s moves in Karachaevo-Cherkessia do not have a precedent in Russia’s post-Soviet history. While Moscow has stopped short of imposing direct presidential rule there, simply the mention of an extra-constitutional form of rule such as a “provisional government” means that a new phase has entered the Kremlin’s Caucasus and nationalities policy. The Kremlin’s approach to the crisis in Karachaevo-Cherkessia has been decidedly proactive: It has tried to nip it in the bud to head off possible violence.

Also noteworthy is that Russia has never rescinded the results of an election for the head of a region or national republic. What is more, in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Moscow has named a Russian as a republican head for the first time since 1991. The fact that Russians constitute the largest ethnic group in the republic does not mitigate the significance of that decision. The center has previously allowed the political elite of a titular ethnic group to usurp power in the national republics, regardless of how many Russian are there, in return for loyalty to the Kremlin.

The new Kremlin tactic, however, might have unpredictable results. Moscow has de facto taken victory away from the candidate backed by the Karachaev ethnic group–General Vladimir Semenov. The Karachaev political elite, which has traditionally run the republic, is unlikely to resign itself to losing power.