Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 180

On September 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin reorganized his cabinet. Among the new appointments was Dmitry Kozak, who was named regional development minister. This ministry is tasked with working out the Russian government’s regional policies and monitoring relations between Russian regions and the federal center. Kozak had been Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, responsible for Kremlin policy toward the North Caucasus, the most unstable region of Russia.

Kozak was appointed envoy to the Southern Federal District in September 2004, during one of the most unsettling periods in Putin’s presidency. The president’s popularity in Russia had been seriously shaken by rebel raids on Ingushetia and Grozny, the Chechen capital, and by the terrorist raid on a school in Beslan that left hundreds dead. The Kremlin realized that it was impossible to suppress the insurgent movement in the Caucasus by force alone, and that a more flexible policy was needed. Kozak, considered to be the most capable administrator among Putin’s associates, was tapped to pursue a carrot-and-stick policy in the Caucasus. Specifically: “Executive power and law-enforcement agencies should act together to eradicate corruption and do away with terrorism alongside social and economic development” (grani.ru, September 24, 2004).

Kozak’s position as envoy was strengthened by a new law that cancelled democratic elections for the heads of the Russian regions. This law largely eliminated the autonomous status of the national republics. Regional leaders lost control over the local security services, which were now subordinated to Moscow, and essentially became economic managers who were instructed to improve the economic situation in their republics under Kozak’s vigilant control. Putin’s advisors believed that accelerated economic growth would curb the spread of the influence of the insurgents over the North Caucasus.

Between 2005 and 2007 regional leaders were replaced or reappointed and placed under Kozak’s close control in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Adygeya, and Chechnya. These measures, however, did not slow the growth of the regional insurgent movements. Threats of introducing direct federal rule in the regions, attempts to attract private investments to the Caucasus, and increased appropriations from the central government budget all failed to stem the growing insurgencies.

The number of insurgents and their supporters did not decrease. In October 2005 rebels attacked Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, and rebel attacks continued over the next two years in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia, where the insurgents became especially active this summer. Russian opposition leaders and independent observers all say that Kozak failed in the North Caucasus.

“Unfortunately, as it was eight or 16 years ago, the Russian South remains a volatile region,” says Magomed Akhmetov, a leader of the Russian Communist Party. “For three years even a professional such as Dmitry Kozak could not radically change the situation in the Southern Federal District. The popular mind still regards the Caucasus as a source of instability” (regnum.ru, September 25).

According to Rostislav Turovsky, head of the Regional Research Agency, “Kozak has long wanted to leave his position as the envoy to the Southern Federal District, this office was a burden for him.” Turovsky believes that Kozak has demonstrated that he is “a good tactician but not a good strategist.” While “Kozak managed to keep the conflict in the North Caucasus within limits acceptable to the federal center,” Turovsky notes, “at the same time he failed to solve the conflict” (Vlast, September 25).

Nevertheless Kozak himself regards his work in the South as an absolute success. On September 26, at his last conference as envoy, Kozak concluded, “It will not be an exaggeration to say that now there is a stable political situation in all the republics of the North Caucasus. It is difficult to estimate the results of one’s own work, but I feel that the political situation has been stabilized.” However, he could not avoid the problems in Ingushetia at the conference and had to admit that the situation there is difficult, but he stressed that the instability did not go beyond the Ingush borders (Rosbalt, September 26).

On September 25, Kozak met with Putin to discuss possible candidates to replace him. There are many names being mooted about, including Vladimir Yakovlev, former minister of regional development; Vladimir Chub, governor of Rostov oblast, two deputy heads of the Putin administration, Vladislav Surkov and Igor Sechin; and even Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. According to Ingushetiya.ru sources around Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, the new envoy could be Oleg Safonov, a federal deputy interior minister. Some observers also suppose that the new envoy will be somebody from a law-enforcement agency. If this personal shift occurs, it will prove that the carrot did not work in the Caucasus, and that Russian authorities now have to rely mostly on the stick to control the region.