Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 215

Russians across the political spectrum were remarkably united yesterday in condemning Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the mercurial president of Kalmykia, located on the Caspian Sea. On Tuesday (November 17), Ilyumzhinov said that his semi-autonomous republic might consider becoming an “associate” member of the Russian Federation, or even seceding altogether. The State Duma yesterday asked Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov to investigate whether Ilyumzhinov’s statements had violated the law, while Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, who is viewed as a member of the Communist Party’s pragmatic wing, said the Kalmyk president “should give testimony in Matrosskaya Tishina or Lefortovo”–two of Moscow’s notorious prisons (Russian agencies, November 18). An independent Russian political analyst who holds decidedly liberal views told the Monitor that the federal authorities should immediately arrest Ilyumzhinov. “Izvestia,” also squarely in the liberal camp, wrote in today’s edition (November 19) that Russia’s experience with the breakaway republic of Chechnya should have taught it that “no compromises are possible” with “a provincial dictator who has turned the territory under his jurisdiction into a criminal zone” (Izvestia, November 19).

During an interview Tuesday (November 17) with Russian Public Television (ORT), Ilyumzhinov said that because Kalmykia had not been receiving the funds it had been promised from Russia’s federal budget, the republic was left “de facto” outside the federal structure and would thus consider becoming an “associate” member of the Russian Federation. This would mean that Kalmykia’s budget would be removed from the federal budget, Ilyumzhinov told ORT, adding that Kalmykia was “prepared to consider” formal secession from Russia in the future. Yesterday, Mikhail Zadornov, Russia’s finance minister, accused Kalmykia and Ilyumzhinov personally of having violated Russia’s constitution by carrying out unsanctioned ruble emissions, withholding federal taxes and misusing federal funds. According to the finance ministry, the misuse of federal funds in Kalmykia has led to large-scale wage arrears. It also says that US$30 million paid by foreign businesses operating in Kalmykia for the republic’s social development went into a presidential fund and were unaccounted for. Zadornov pointed to, among other things, Chess City, a luxury complex Ilyumzhinov built to host the world chess tournament. The Kalmyk president heads the World Chess Federation (Russian agencies, November 18). Earlier this year, Larisa Yudina, a local journalist in Kalmykia, was murdered while she was investigating the alleged embezzlement of government funds by Ilyumzhinov’s administration. Chess City was among the targets of her investigation. This past summer, several of the Kalmyk president’s aides were charged with the murder.

Yesterday, President Boris Yeltsin ordered Security Council Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha to hold a meeting to address Ilyumzhinov’s remarks. Yeltsin’s press secretary, Dmitri Yakushkin, told radio station Ekho Moskvy that the remarks “create a very bad background which sheds doubt on political stability in the country.” Later in the day, Ilyumzhinov seemed to back off a bit, saying that he had merely been expressing in his remarks Tuesday “the opinion of the people of the republic,” not making an official announcement (Russian agencies, November 18).