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Kremlin Picks Outsider As New Caucasus Overlord

Aleksandr Khloponin is Dmitry Medvedev's new envoy to the newly created North Caucasus Federal District.

Aleksandr Khloponin is Dmitry Medvedev's new envoy to the newly created North Caucasus Federal District.

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The Kremlin sought to tighten its grip of the volatile North Caucasus today by grouping the most violent provinces together in a new federal district and appointing an outsider to oversee it.

The mountainous region, which includes Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan, has seen a surge in insurgent violence in recent months, in what President Dmitry Medvedev has described as the country's biggest domestic political problem.

In televised comments, Medvedev announced the creation of a North Caucasus Federal District and named Aleksandr Khloponin, governor of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, as his envoy.

A former businessman with no ties to the region, Khloponin will report directly to Medvedev and hold the rank of deputy prime minister.

"You have achieved a lot, above all in social and economic projects, and it is this that is in extreme need in the North Caucasus," Medvedev told him during a televised meeting.

In addition to Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya, the main focus of rebel violence, the district will also include the less volatile regions of Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, and the Stavropol Region.

Previously, these territories were grouped with others in a much larger unit called the Southern Administrative district.

Political analysts expect the move will transfer some power from local North Caucasus' leaders back to the Kremlin.

In an interview with Reuters last year, Ingushetia's leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, said the new district head would have to be someone who could handle "terrorism, extremism and separatism."

Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Analysis, said Moscow was taking a chance by choosing someone with little or no law-enforcement experience.

"The task of the new envoy will not so much be the fight against terrorism as the elimination of the breeding grounds for it: poverty and unemployment," said Minchenko. "What they need is an economic breakthrough."

Alexei Mukhin, an analyst at the Center for Political Information, called the appointment risky.

"Khloponin has no experience at all of the North Caucasus." he said. "But as a businessman Khloponin has a good feeling for financial flows."

Exiled Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev said last November that the Kremlin would create the new district before greatly boosting troop numbers in the region, a charge on which the North Caucasus regional military has declined comment.

Echoing Georgian and Russian media reports, Zakayev said the Kremlin will boost its army there in order to tighten its grip on the restive region.