Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 106

In Cherkessk, the capital of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, unknown assailants attempted to set fire to the apartment of the editor of the official newspaper “Karachaevo-Cherkessia Dyen Respubliki,” Anna Belskaya. The fire, however, was quickly extinguished. No one was hurt. The office of the republic’s prosecutor general has launched a criminal investigation into the incident. Prior to the fire, Belskaya had received anonymous threats, and local observers believe she was threatened because “Dyen Respubliki” has tried to maintain an objective position, supporting neither side in the power struggle between the two contenders for the leadership of the republic–Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev and former Russian ground forces commander Vladimir Semenov (Kommersant, June 1).

The Kremlin, fearing an interethnic conflict in the republic (Semenov is an ethnic Karachaev, while Derev is a Cherkess), has decided to take an unprecedented step: to create a provisional government for the republic, which will function until Russia’s Supreme Court and Central Election Committee decides whether the recent election in Karachaevo-Cherkessia was legitimate or should be annulled because of violations. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin has said that a provisional government is the only way to stabilize the situation in the republic and to maintain interethnic accord and peace there.

However, in creating the provisional government, Moscow has in effect taken victory away from General Semenov and his Karachaev supporters. The Karachaev political elite traditionally governed the republic and is not likely to reconcile itself to a loss of power. If it becomes clear that the Supreme Court and Central Election Commission are delaying their decisions on the vote, unrest among the Karachaev population is inevitable. The incident involving the newspaper “Dyen Respubliki” is the first symptom that the Kremlin’s provisional government tactic may fail to keep peace. It also shows that it is too early to say that the situation in Karachaevo-Cherkessia has stabilized (see the Monitor, May 26).