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North Caucasus: Dmitrii Kozak -- Troubleshooter Or Whipping Boy?

In the nine months since his appointment as President Vladimir Putin's representative to the Southern Federal District, former presidential-administration head Dmitrii Kozak has managed to defuse at least two major crises in the region -- in the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic last November and in Adygeya in May.

He has also drafted a plan for resolving the dispute between North Ossetia and Ingushetia over Prigorodnyi Raion under which some 10,000 Ingush displaced persons are to return to that district by the end of 2006. It was North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov's rejection of that plan that set in motion the events that culminated in Dzasokhov's resignation last month, according to "Kommersant-Vlast" No. 22.

In a 26 May interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya attributed Kozak's effectiveness on the ground to his comprehensive understanding of the nature of the problems facing the North Caucasus, in contrast to his predecessors, who according to Politkovskaya relied on "false information."

Politkovskaya's hypothesis is supported by a 16 June article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" by State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinshtein (Unified Russia), who claims that Kozak has compiled and submitted to Putin a detailed -- and damning -- analysis of the political situation in the North Caucasus that highlights such failings as top-level corruption and economic mismanagement.

In that draft analysis, extracts from which Khinshtein quotes verbatim, Kozak predicts a sharp rise in radicalism and extremism and an expanding disconnect between "constitutional democratic principles and existing realities," warning that those trends could lead to the emergence of "a macro-region of sociopolitical and economic instability" encompassing the entire North Caucasus and parts of Stavropol Krai.

Specifically, Kozak brands the leaders of the North Caucasus republics as venal and compromised, alleging that "corporate extended family groupings" within the various republican administrations have "monopolized political and economic resources," destroying the system of checks and balances intended to prevent such abuses.

In the light of that indictment of corrupt local leaders, it is puzzling that Kozak should have recommended that Putin reappoint for a second term embattled Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, whom the Ingushetian opposition claims is widely hated precisely because he turns a blind eye to corruption within the upper echelons of the republic's leadership. Since last September, more than 1,000 people have signed an online petition ( calling on Zyazikov to resign.

Kozak was present at the 15 June session of the Ingushetian parliament that endorsed Putin's renomination of Zyazikov; he kept deputies' speeches to a minimum, and his bodyguards prevented the leader of the Ingushetian opposition, Musa Ozdoev, from approaching and speaking with Kozak, reported.

There are, however, several possible explanations for Kozak's public display of support for Zyazikov, even given the glaring inconsistency between that support and Kozak's condemnation of official corruption. First, Kozak takes his orders from Putin, who may in the case of Zyazikov have been reluctant for whatever reason to sacrifice a fellow Federal Security Service (FSB) veteran even in the interests of preventing a popular uprising. The entire population of Ingushetia is, after all, only 316,900. And there is no obvious replacement for Zyazikov who would be acceptable to Putin. In a poll conducted between 12 January and 3 March, 45.5 percent of the 3,068 respondents said they would like to see former President Ruslan Aushev restored to that post; Ozdoev ranked in distant second place with 12.2 percent support, according to

Second, Kozak may have decided to make a virtue of a necessity and use his time in the North Caucasus to demonstrate publicly to the maximum extent his political and managerial skills. On 17 June, "The Moscow Times" quoted pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov as describing Kozak as "excellent in assessing problems, working out plans to regulate the situation and putting them into effect."

Third, due to his former close working relationship with Putin, Kozak may have believed that Putin would believe his evaluation of the state of affairs in the North Caucasus even if he had previously rejected similar negative assessments, and take swift action to remedy the situation. Kozak's diagnosis, after all, said nothing new. For example, Emil Pain, director of the Center of Ethno-Political and Regional Studies, similarly told "Vremya novostei" of 26 April that due to the "acute inadequacy of regional government in the Caucasus," a "gray zone" is taking shape there where local leaders "simulate loyalty to the federal center as the sociopolitical fabric of the Russian state unravels."

Fourth, in writing his analysis of the nature and extent of the problems Moscow faces in the North Caucasus, Kozak may have been motivated at least to some extent by the desire to cover his back and be able, as the Russian idiom puts it, to emerge dry from the water in the event of a major conflagration in the region, one that could even take Putin down with it.

Ranking those various hypothetical explanations in order of likelihood is all the more difficult in that it remains unclear whether Kozak's appointment as presidential representative was a punishment and exile, as Politkovskaya has suggested or whether it was intended as a test of Kozak's true ability. Or perhaps Putin belatedly realized in the wake of the September 2004 school hostage taking in Beslan that he needs a agent in the North Caucasus whom he trusts completely. Recent speculation that Putin is pleased with Kozak's performance to date and may be considering bringing him back to Moscow, possibly even as the next prime minister, would tend to support the latter hypothesis.

But even if this is Putin's plan, much may depend on timing. As Markov pointed out in his comments on Kozak's draft report to Putin, "the situation in the North Caucasus is so bad that it needs complete overhauling," not minor repair. "It is not the individuals or clans in power that should be changed but the whole system of governance," Markov concluded. Aushev, too, has advocated a "radical reevaluation" of Moscow's policies in the North Caucasus, which he described in a 6 June interview with as dictated by day-to-day breaking events -- a definition that is substantiated by Kozak's constant troubleshooting missions in recent weeks.

Khinshtein's "Moskovskii komsomolets" article did not reveal what, if any, proposals Kozak included in his report to Putin for remedying the situation. But any sweeping reform of Moscow's modus operandi in the North Caucasus would be a tacit admission on Putin's part either that he has failed to grasp the nature of the problem until now, and/or that he has made major errors -- for example in reappointing Zyazikov. And his seeming inability to admit to past mistakes appears to be among Putin's greatest weaknesses.

If one subscribes to the hypothesis that Kozak's appointment was a demotion, then he may now be in a vulnerable position for having spotlighted the shortcomings of Moscow's North Caucasus policy. Moreover, Kozak's tactical successes to date have all been outside Chechnya, and a radical deterioration of the situation there could severely damage his credibility. And even if radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev fails to make good on his threat to vent on Russia "a summer of fire," any spontaneous popular protest in the North Caucasus, such as those in recent weeks in Kabardino-Balkaria, could erupt into a major crisis that could test Kozak's skills to the limit.

Alternatively, following the leak of his draft report to the Russian press, any one of the entrenched North Caucasus leaders -- or more likely a member of their immediate circle who stands to lose out in the event of that leader's dismissal -- may decide that the most logical solution is simply to have Kozak removed from the political scene. Viktor Polyanichko, who was sent from Moscow in early 1993 to head the Temporary Administration in North Ossetia, and in that capacity reported directly to then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, was assassinated in August 1993.

See also:

Russia: Could North Ossetian Leader’s Departure Herald Other Resignations?