Public Campaign Heats Up for Redrawing of Internal Borders of North Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 67

Aleksandr Khloponin (Source: RIA Novosti)

A public campaign in Stavropol region for its formal secession from the North Caucasus Federal District has stirred up major controversy. Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin, accused “instigators” from the Novaya Sila (New Power) party of meddling in the region. In his turn, the party’s head, Valery Solovei, called Khloponin an “utterly incompetent, ineffective administrator.” He added: “In the Kremlin [they] are extremely discontented with the fact that the situation in Stavropol region is spinning out of control and [they] are inclined to make serious organizational follow-up decisions. That is why Khloponin found someone as a scapegoat to explain his own failures.” Observers say that the future of the North Caucasus Federal District is uncertain. Many observers predict that soon after the Olympics in Sochi in 2014, the district will be reorganized once again. Some say the district might be expanded again to include Krasnodar, Rostov and other nearby ethnic Russian regions, while others argue that the eastern part of the North Caucasus, including Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, will be separated from the rest of the North Caucasus (http://www.bigcaucasus.com/events/topday/01-04-2013/82905-hloponin-0/).

Mass public protests started in Stavropol region in December 2012, when an ethnic Russian was killed by an ethnic Chechen in a street fight in the city of Nevinnomysk. The protesters accused the authorities of inaction because the suspect apparently managed to escape from Stavropol region and the police could not find him. The police had to revert to mass arrests and intimidation in Stavropol region in order to pacify the public (see EDM, February 4).

The organizing force apparently behind Novaya Sila makes the situation even more complicated. Valery Solovei is a professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO). This institution has traditionally prepared Soviet and Russian diplomats for diplomatic missions overseas, and therefore has had significant ties to the Russian security services. If the Russian security services, through proxies, are behind the unrest in Stavropol region, it could mean that the factionalization of Russian government institutions has progressed significantly. The contradiction is that Moscow, on the one hand, has to play the role of an imperial center that is fair toward all ethnic groups of Russia but, on the other hand, Moscow’s dependence on ethnic Russians by far outweighs the importance of all other groups put together.

In an earlier article addressed to the Russian nationalists, Solovei admonished Russian nationalists for their narrow rhetoric. He advised them to overhaul their slogans and devise a viable program in order to appeal to the general population of Russia. In the same article, published at the start of 2012, Solovei announced his intention to create the party Novaya Sila. According to Solovei, “hard nationalists” prepared to vote for nationalist candidates under any circumstances comprise only 15 percent of the Russian population, while support for “soft nationalism” approaches 60–70 percent. “This is more than enough to win any parliamentary and presidential elections,” he said. In order to win the hearts of Russians, the nationalists should respond to the real demands of the Russian people, Solovei wrote. “Nationalists aspire to represent Russian people. However, the primary content of the Russian Question is not ethnic, as they [the nationalists] think, but democratic and social. Russian people demand first of all freedom and justice” (http://rusplatforma.org/publikacii/node447/). Freedom and justice, however, are seen in a narrow sense as applicable to ethnic Russians only.

Solovei’s colleague from MGIMO, Vladimir Mukhanov, who is a senior research fellow at the Center for Caucasus Affairs and Regional Security, said in an interview that the primary problem of Khloponin is the fact that he has too little power. “Compare the powers of Khloponin with the powers of the heads of the regions in the North Caucasus,” Mukhanov wrote. “What is the meaning of the interaction between heads of the republics and the plenipotentiary representative, if they have direct contact with federal ministries and agencies in Moscow?” According to Mukhanov, ethnic Russians in Stavropol region started collecting signatures on a petition to secede from the North Caucasus Federal District out of despair, because the authorities were not carrying out their duties properly. The solution to the problems of the North Caucasus lies, in Mukhanov’s words, in increasing control over the local authorities “so that they do not feel they are autonomous entities, but realize they are part of a unified state mechanism” (http://www.bigcaucasus.com/events/topday/01-04-2013/82905-hloponin-0/).

So those in the more enlightened camp of Russian nationalists, such as Valery Solovei and Vladimir Mukhanov, have contradictory attitudes toward the North Caucasus and the rest of the Russian Federation. While they see the need to fight for democracy and justice for ethnic Russians, they see the lot of ethnic North Caucasians as having to endure even more central government control than currently exists. This apparently discriminatory attitude toward the North Caucasians is likely to backfire when Russia becomes more democratic and Russian nationalists have greater sway over the government.