Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 47

U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns was in the North Caucasus from December 4-5, visiting Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, Vladikavkaz and Beslan in North Ossetia. According to the U.S embassy in Moscow’s website, Burns met with the President of Kabardino-Balkaria, Arsen Kanokov, “and reiterated that the United States condemns all acts of terrorism and those who encourage terrorism.” They also spoke about “the importance of attracting investment to create employment and to promote stability and discussed the prospects for additional U.S investments to the region,” the website reported.

The Regnum news agency, on December 4, quoted Burns as saying after his meeting with Kanokov: “The North Caucasus today is playing a very important role in ensuring security in the region and in the whole world. The North Caucasus itself very much needs economic support. This is why the United States last year provided US$11 million for the development of businesses here, the creation of jobs, for strengthening the public health system.” Burns said that he and Kanokov discussed the prospects for Kabardino-Balkaria’s development. “I am convinced that we have much to gain by working together,” Burns was quoted as saying. He also said he and Kanokov had discussed the situation surrounding Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which, he said, must be resolved peacefully.

Kanokov, for his part, said that he and the U.S. ambassador had a very interesting discussion about economic cooperation. “Many problems of the North Caucasus are located in the economic field,” Regnum quoted him as saying. “Especially in Kabardino-Balkaria. If we quickly raise the economy – and that means increasing the prosperity of the republic’s inhabitants – then the majority of these problems will be eliminated.” Kanokov said the republic plans to develop relations with U.S. businessmen “as much as possible.” He also said they had discussed the political situation in the Caucasus, especially in South Ossetia.

Burns also met with students, faculty and alumni of U.S.-sponsored exchange programs at the Kabardino-Balkaria State University. According to the U.S. embassy website, he “complemented them on their academic achievements and expressed his gratitude for their efforts to foster mutual understanding between Russia and the United States.”

The U.S. ambassador’s visit to Kabardino-Balkaria is particularly interesting against the backdrop of last month’s video statement made by Anzor Astemirov, also known as Emir Seyfullah, the leader of Kabardino-Balkaria’s rebels, vowing to step up attacks (Chechnya Weekly, November 22).

While visiting Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, Burns met with the republic’s head, Taimuraz Mamsurov. According to the U.S. embassy in Moscow’s website, Burns and Mamsurov discussed opportunities for U.S. investment in the region and North Ossetia’s future plans for the development of the regional economy. Burns also attended a meeting with the heads of various United Nations organizations and other non-governmental organizations in Vladikavkaz, including the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, United Nations Development Program, World Food Program, United Nations Department of Safety and Security, United Nations Children Fund, Food and Agriculture Organization, and United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Burns “noted that the International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations, which promote civil society and stability, are essential to the development of the North Caucasus,” the U.S. embassy’s website reported.

In Beslan, Burns laid a wreath at the Tree of Mourning in memory of the School Number One’s 334 hostages, including 186 schoolchildren, who were killed after they were taken hostage for three days by terrorists in September 2004. According to the U.S. embassy in Moscow’s website, he “underscored the United States’ strong condemnation of this tragic event, and emphasized that the United States and Russia share a common determination to fight terrorism.”