The draft Strategy of a State Nationalities Policy currently in the final stage of discussion contains a provision that could allow for the consolidation of the North Caucasus republics into a single territorial-administrative entity of which Russian President Vladimir Putin could appoint his protégé, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, as head.
Kadyrov has systematically sought to extend his hegemony
beyond Chechnya for the past several years. But whether the strategy was drafted with the explicit objective of facilitating his aspirations is impossible to say.
Meeting on October 29, the working group tasked with fine-tuning the draft strategy approved the final wording of the section in question, which now reads
: “...develop the practice of forming large territorial-administrative units in the R[ussian] F[ederation], endorsing in them new forms of territorial government conditioned by a combination of natural-climatic, economic, and ethno-confessional factors.”
It is not clear whether the new proposed model would be applied simultaneously to the whole of Russia or whether one or several individual regions, such as the North Caucasus, would be selected as a controlled experiment. Tatarstan and unnamed other “national republics” have already expressed opposition to the idea. It is also not clear whether one or all of the new mega-districts will replace the existing network of federal districts, and if they do not, or the two systems do not dovetail exactly, how political and economic responsibility would be divided between the presidential representative to the Federal District and the head of the new territorial entity.
In addition, no final decision has yet been taken on whether to resurrect the Nationalities Ministry that Putin abolished in 2001. In his seminal article
on nationality policy earlier this year, Putin argued that a separate government agency is needed to focus on nationality policy. And after his reelection as president, he ordered the creation
of a presidential council for interethnic relations, which he personally chairs. That council, which drafted the new strategy, includes no fewer than four former nationalities ministers (Ramazan Abdulatipov, Valery Tishkov, Vladimir Zorin, and Vyacheslav Mikhailov). But it is an advisory body with no executive powers.
For that reason, during successive discussions of the draft nationalities strategy, representatives of the North Caucasus republics and of Tatarstan have consistently argued the need for a new Nationalities Ministry. Debating the strategy last week, the State Duma, too, advocated the creation
of a new ministry and the allocation of a minimum of 1 billion rubles ($31.78 million) from the state budget to finance it.
Putin first experimented with the practice of merging federation subjects in the early 2000s, around the same time as he abolished the Nationalities Ministry. As a result of the mergers of six autonomous okrugs into larger, neighboring oblasts, the number of federation subjects was reduced
from 89 to 83. But in the North Caucasus, plans to subsume the Republic of Adygheya into surrounding Krasnodar Krai triggered heated protests
in Adygheya and were quietly shelved.
Two years ago, Putin, then Russian prime minister, floated an alternative model
for regional economic amalgamation in the form of a “macro-district” comprising the southwest Siberian oblasts of Tomsk, Novosibirsk, and Kemerovo, and Altai Krai. A few months later, “Vedomosti” reported the existence
of a blueprint to redivide Russia into 20 administrative regions.
Public discussion of the draft nationalities strategy ends on October 31 and Putin is to formally approve it by the end of this year. Assuming that he then appoints Kadyrov to head a new mega-region, Kadyrov would thus have carte blanche to impose on the entire North Caucasus his bastardized version of Chechen Sufi Islam. Whether he would also assume responsibility for implementing the grandiose plans drawn up by the presidential representative to the North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin, for a string of high-end tourist resorts financed largely by foreign investment is not clear.