On May 31, Alexander Dzasokhov, president of North Ossetia, announced his early resignation, saying he wanted “to give way to a younger generation” within the Ossetian leadership. “I am making a precedent,” he declared. “While all others are trying to extend their terms; I decided to cut mine short” (RIA-Novosti, May 31). He had been eligible to remain in his post until the end of the year.
Despite his noble announcements, the Ossetian president was likely forced to resign. In his farewell statement Dzasokhov said that it was not a snap decision made in one day, but only eight days earlier his press secretary had denied rumors that his boss was ready to resign (RIA-Novosti, May 23).
Only the Kremlin could influence Dzasokhov’s decision. Dmitry Kozak, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the Southern Federal District, was the first person to publicize Dzasokhov’s resignation (RIA-Novosti, May 31). However, the Kremlin has typically preferred to re-appoint loyal regional cadres. The momentum forcing the Kremlin’s hand in this case came from the Ossetian people.
Dzasokhov’s fate was sealed by the September 1, 2004, terrorist attack on the North Ossetian town of Beslan and the bungled rescue operation that resulted in hundreds of dead and wounded hostages. The political situation in the once-quiet region of the North Caucasus radically changed for the worse, as the Ossetians lost trust in their government. The people in the republic, especially the residents of Beslan, blamed Dzasokhov for refusing to talk with the terrorists during the siege. The people kept calling Dzasokhov names, with “coward” used most often.
The first protest rally to demand Dzasokhov resignation was held on September 4, 2004, in Vladikavkaz, the republican capital. The rally was organized by different opposition political parties, and the protesters came very close to seizing the parliament building; only Dzasokhov’s diplomatic skills convinced the protestors to retreat (see EDM, September 13, 2004).
It soon became obvious that the diverse Ossetian opposition did not have enough force to seize power. The anti-Dzasokhov opposition quickly split into different factions, and there was no single leader strong enough to unite the various groups. Nevertheless, sporadic protests against Dzasokhov continued. The victims of the Beslan drama became the driving force behind the anti-Dzasokhov campaign.
On February 17 a delegation from the “Mothers of Beslan” organization went to Moscow to organize a press conference demanding Dzasokhov’s resignation. In December 2004 and January 2005 women from Beslan blocked a key highway in Ossetia to force Dzasokhov to leave. Kozak invited the Mothers of Beslan to meet in Rostov-on-Don to discuss the situation. He explained, “There are legal procedures for such issues” and asked them to cancel their protest (lenta.ru, February 1). As with Karachaevo-Cherkessia (see EDM November 24, 2004), Moscow could not surrender Dzasokhov under popular pressure without losing face.
However, by the beginning of this year, the Kremlin realized it needed to replace Dzasokhov. By March 2005, according to surveys, only 7% of Ossetians supported the president (yufo.ru, May 31). After meeting with Kozak, the “Mothers of Beslan” stopped protest actions, but they continued to bombard the Kremlin with petitions and open letters. In one letter sent to Putin in late February, the Mothers described Dzasokhov as a person “who is trying to save his name at the expense of the dead children’s blood” (yufo.ru, February 17).
Moscow decided late May would be the best time to get rid of the unpopular leader. All protest rallies were banned for three months ostensibly because of possible terrorist attacks (NTV, May 12). It was very important for the Kremlin to dismiss Dzasokhov in such manner that nobody could say that the Kremlin was responding to popular demands or the Ossetian opposition groups.
“Putin is not dismissing Dzasokhov because of the pressure of the street,” Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of the Political Expertise, told Nezavisimaya gazeta newspaper (June 1). However, another source told Nezavisimaya gazeta that Dzasokhov had resigned under pressure from Moscow and Kozak personally (June 1).
While President Dzasokhov is relegated to history, people are wondering who will be his successor. There are three candidates for the post, but only one of them has a real chance to become the new Ossetian leader. This would be Taymuraz Masurov, chairman of the local parliament. According to Yufo, Moscow has already approved his candidacy (yufo.ru, May 13).
As for other candidates, such as Ossetian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Merkulov or Kazbek Pagiev, the mayor of Vladikavkaz, they are just on the ballot to make the process appear democratic.
Nevertheless, despite Dzasokhov’s resignation, the opposition does not want Masurov as the new head of the republic. He is much worse than Dzasokhov, Vissarion Aseev, chairman of the Teachers’ Committee, told Nezavisimaya gazeta (June 1). “There should be none of Dzasokhov’s men in the administration of the republic. Masurov is absolutely unacceptable to us,” declared Alikhan Khugaev, a leader of the “United Ossetia” opposition party (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 1).
The Ossetian opposition wants Teymuzar Balloev, a local tycoon, to become the Ossetian leader, but he is unacceptable to the Kremlin. So, most probably, the political standoff in Ossetia will continue, and people may come out on the streets in case of any great failure by the authorities. The fragile political structure will face new challenges if a new Beslan happens in the region. This is quite possible, considering the fact that a real war is still going on in nearby Chechnya.