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Was Karachayevo-Cherkessia President Aide's Killing Intentional?

Fral Shebzukhov -- Karachayevo-Cherkessia's late prime-minister-to-be?

Fral Shebzukhov -- Karachayevo-Cherkessia's late prime-minister-to-be?

The details that have emerged to date of the killing on May 12 of Fral Shebzukhov, a Cherkess aide to Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) President Boris Ebzeyev, are sketchy. But certain tentative conclusions can still be drawn, based on the killers' modus operandi and the albeit unconfirmed reports that Ebzeyev intended to name Shebzukhov prime minister.

According to the official police report, three masked men confronted Shebzukhov on the street in Cherkessk, started beating him with baseball bats, and then, when he tried to flee, fired one shot that killed him. The attackers escaped in an unmarked car, but left behind the murder weapon, which KChR parliament deputy Akhmad Ebzeyev (not known to be a close relative of the president) told the Russian daily "Kommersant" was not of the type a professional killer would use.

That scenario effectively precludes either the North Caucasus resistance, which prefers drive-by shootings, car bombs, or (in Daghestan) sniper attacks, or a contract killing, which would almost certainly be perpetrated by a single assassin firing several shots into the heart and a final shot in the head.

Investigators said on May 13 they were working on the assumption that the motive for the killing was Shebzukhov's professional activities. He had served as a member of the presidential administration under Vladimir Semyonov, KChR president from 1999 to 2004, then in the republic's Interior Ministry, and as head of the Adyghe-Khabl district.

It is not clear, however, whether it was an incident from Shebzuhov's earlier career that precipitated his killing, or whether he was killed to prevent him becoming prime minister. According to "Vremya novostei," Ebzeyev's staff declined to comment on the media reports (one of which cited Akhmad Ebzeyev) that Ebzeyev had proposed Shebzukhov's candidacy as prime minister to parliament, in line with the directive issued in mid-April by North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin to appoint a Cherkess as prime minister.

Whether or not the candidate whom Ebzeyev proposed to parliament was Shebzukhov, parliament deputies reacted by postponing the planned parliament session rather than vote on that candidate. It is not clear whether that move was intended to humiliate Ebzeyev, or as defiance of Khloponin for seeking to impose a Circassian prime minister on the Karachai majority, or both.

Given the killers' behavior, it is conceivable that their objective was simply to intimidate Shebzukhov (and/or convey a warning to President Ebzeyev), rather than kill him. On the other hand, the apparently amateurish killing may have been painstakingly orchestrated to convey precisely that misleading impression.

Whatever the perpetrators' motive, Shebzukhov's death has not outraged and galvanized the Cherkess minority to the extent that the murder two months ago of young Cherkess activist Aslan Zhukov did. On that occasion, young Circassians took to the streets and marched to Ebzeyev's office to demand a meeting with him.

But by the same token, the killing is unlikely to deter those Cherkess activists who are determined to continue with their campaign to split the KChR and revive the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast that existed from 1943 to 1957. Mukhamed Cherkesov, who heads the Cherkess public organization Adyghe Khase, told Regnum yesterday that in light of that overriding demand, it was "not that important" who is selected as KChR prime minister. Cherkesov nonetheless conceded that a Circassian prime minister could "help us effect that division painlessly."

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.