On December 13, the parliament of Adygeya, a region in the North Caucasus, voted to confirm Aslan Tkhakushinov as president of the republic. According to Russian law, the president of the Russian Federation nominates a candidate for regional leadership posts and the local parliament votes to either confirm or reject it. Russian President Vladimir Putin nominated Tkhakushinov on December 6, and 52 out of the 53 members of the local parliament confirmed him on December 13 (Kavkazky Uzel, December 13).
The voting in the Adygei parliament was a mere formality, as the real decision had already been made in the Kremlin. On October 2, 2006, Dmitry Kozak, Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, visited Adygeya to discuss possible candidates to succeed Khasret Sovmen, whose term of office expires in February (see EDM, October 3, 2006). He returned to Moscow with two names: Ruslan Khadzhibiekov, chairman of the Adygei parliament, and Aslan Tkhakushinov, the president of the Adygei Institute of Technology. Initially, Khadzhibiekov seemed to be the front-runner, but Putin ultimately chose Tkhakushinov. Khadzhibiekov’s prospects may have been damaged by promises he made in private meetings with regional leaders to defend Adygei sovereignty and prevent the unification of the region with neighboring Krasnodar krai. According to Kommersant, Kozak did not like such promises and recommended Tkhakushinov, who has been neutral on the subject. When asked his opinion about the Kremlin’s idea to merge Adygeya and Krasnodar, Tkhakushinov said that he neither supported nor rejected it (Kommersant, October 3, 2006). That equanimity apparently satisfied Moscow.
But before appointing Tkhakushinov, the Kremlin had to quell Sovmen’s resistance. The incumbent’s main trump card was his high popularity among the Adygei. According to a survey conducted last October by the Caucasus Times news agency, more than 59% of the residents of Maykop, the Adygei capital, favored allowing Sovmen to remain in office (Kavkazky Uzel, October 24). Significantly, Maykop is dominated by ethnic Russians who, unlike the Adygeis, are quite indifferent about the Kremlin’s policy of unification.
At the same time, Almir Abregov, director of the Adygei National Museum, told a Radio Liberty correspondent that if the republic’s population could elect their president by themselves, Tkhakushinov clearly would not be among their favorites (Radio Liberty, October 20, 2006).
On October 17, Boris Gokzhaev, the vice-president of Adygeya, and Taliy Beretar, the head of Sovmen’s administration, told journalists that Kozak had ignored public opinion on the question of the Adygei presidency.
Sovmen’s strategy was to ask Putin directly to reappoint him. However, Sovmen’s reappointment was not part of Moscow’s plans. The Kremlin decided to appoint Tkhakushinov as soon as possible in order to neutralize Sovmen’s attempts to remain in power.
On October 25, Adygei deputies voted to support Tkhakushinov’s candidacy. Although there were many Sovmen supporters in parliament, they preferred to side with the federal authorities rather than the Adygei president. That strange vote was premature, since Tkhakushinov had not yet been formally nominated. Instead, the vote provided the Kremlin with a moral victory over Sovmen. Throughout November Sovmen pushed different public figures and civic organizations of Adygeya to make statements on his behalf, but nothing worked and Putin did not change his mind. On December 13, Tkhakushinov officially became the new Adygei leader.
With the presidency resolved, the next issue on the agenda is the republic’s sovereignty. Tkhakushinov has already declared that the borders of Adygeya are untouchable. However, this statement could be part of a new Kremlin strategy. The main idea of this strategy is to incorporate Adygeya into Krasnodar krai de facto without changing its formal status. This process started last November, when several state structures in Adygeya were placed under the authority of Krasnodar krai. According to decrees from Putin, the Veterinary and Phytosanitary Control of Adygeya, as well as the Press Control and Roads Control Directorates were also transferred to Krasnodar. The State Drugs Control Committee and others soon received the same treatment. The Adygei Customs Agency was liquidated on November 30. At the same time the Adygei Ministry of Interior Affairs was re-named as the Adygei branch of the Russian Ministry of Interior Affairs. There are also rumors circulating in the region that the Migration Directorate will be also reassigned soon (Kavkazky Uzel, December 10).
Against the background of such massive changes in the Adygei governing system, Tkhakushinov gave his first interview as president and called for the further economic integration of Adygeya into Krasnodar krai (Regnum, December 14). All signs suggest that Adygeya’s autonomous days are numbered.