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North Caucasus: No Clear Strategy In Region

Dmitrii Kozak with President Putin in May Speaking at a 23 September conference attended by North Caucasus leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin wholeheartedly endorsed proposals by his envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitrii Kozak, to curtail the powers of federation subject heads whose fiefdoms are heavily dependent on the federal budget to finance their budget spending. Days earlier, an article criticizing Kozak's performance during the 12 months since his appointment was published in a south Russian newspaper and immediately reprinted by several national dailies. It is not clear who sought to compromise Kozak and why. Kozak told journalists unequivocally on 23 September that he has no intention of running for president in 2008 when Putin's second term expires.

The article criticizing Kozak appeared in the weekly newspaper "Yuzhnii federal'nyi." Its author was identified as Ekaterina Bagrych, a student at Rostov-na-Donu State University, but no journalist has succeeded in tracing any student of that name. The article comprises two sections: a 10-part analysis of the political and economic difficulties facing the North Caucasus, followed by 10 direct questions addressed to Kozak personally.

Several of the problems Bagrych lists figured in Kozak's own report to Putin on the situation in the region, which was leaked to the Russian press several months ago, but she does not give him credit for his diagnosis. Those problems include the pernicious role and influence of corrupt local "clans" grouped around individual republic heads, and the inability of those leaders to end interethnic conflict, replace incompetent and corrupt bureaucracies, and eradicate unemployment and poverty. The author contrasts the economic weakness of individual republics with the unexploited natural wealth of the region and with economic indicators that are difficult to reconcile with widespread poverty. For example, Daghestan has the highest volume of foreign currency transactions in Russia, while Chechnya leads the way in the construction of luxury mansions.

Bagrych further highlights the dangers of failing to address environmental issues, and draws attention to the concern of the local population that the region will be passed over when the recently enacted law on free economic zones is implemented. (She did not add that the free economic zone that existed for several years in Ingushetia failed to serve as a motor for an economic upswing.)

No Strategy

As have many other analysts, Bagrych laments the fact that in 15 years the Kremlin has never drafted a single comprehensive, clearly-thought-through long-term strategy for addressing the problems that plague the North Caucasus. She accuses Kozak personally and his team of advisors of lacking "a clear and precisely formulated strategic plan" for the region. She even describes Kozak's team as "ossified bureaucrats" and "burned-out old men" incapable of anything other than "pretending to work energetically and drafting utopian assessments" that are "far from reality." Bagrych argues that Kozak personally has disappointed local residents who hoped his appointment would be a watershed, heralding an end to multifarious negative phenomenon, and she challenges him to make public his own vision of how the region should develop over the next decade.

Bagrych argues that since finding a solution to the most pressing economic problems is easier than tackling political and personnel issues, Kozak should have been able to make some headway in doing so in 12 months, but has failed to do so. She further poses a series of fundamental questions: how close is the North Caucasus to sliding into civil war, and what preconditions are necessary to guarantee peace and stability there? Is it possible to rein in all-powerful clans and put an end to corruption, and is it morally acceptable for the Kremlin to reappoint local leaders in whom the population has lost all confidence? (That latter question is a clear reference to Ingushetia's Murat Zyazikov.) What does Kozak consider the optimum correlation between authoritarian and bureaucratic methods in the North Caucasus? (There can of course be no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, only individually tailored solutions for specific regions.) And finally, Bagrych challenges Kozak to specify whether his track record over the past year is in balance positive or negative. She compares him unfavorably with Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais who, she argues, in contrast to Kozak, has already made sure of his place in history as a reformer. And she asks whether Kozak does not regret having accepted his current post, implying that it may mark the ignominious end of his political career.

One could argue that some of those criticisms of Kozak are immoderate or even unfair in light of the circumstances of his appointment. In the wake of the Beslan hostage-taking, it seems logical to assume that Putin's first priority was to strengthen stability in the North Caucasus, rather than risk triggering new crises by replacing any or all local leaders who were demonstrably incompetent, or corrupt, or both. In addition, Kozak himself was not empowered to fire such officials, or even to recommend their dismissal. Moreover, Kozak's own diagnosis of the nature, extent, and seriousness of the political and social problems across the region testify to his perceptiveness, his analytical ability, and his rejection of a status quo which he argues poses a serious threat to political and economic stability across southern Russia. But even given carte blanche to formulate a long-term strategy for the region, he lacks the political clout to secure the budget funds with which to implement such a strategic vision.

Reduced to the most general terms, the problem facing Kozak, and by extension Putin, is, as Bagrych points out, the lack of an overall strategy for the North Caucasus; the disinclination, or inability, of local leaders to get to grips with the most pressing problems confronting them; and a disconnect in the "power vertical" that deprives Kozak of effective leverage to change the situation for the better. The measures Kozak proposed at the 23 September conference of North Caucasus leaders address the latter issue, in that they constitute an incentive to those leaders to undertake a serious overhaul of the economy by threatening to transfer to the federal center responsibility for the finances of those republics that receive more than 60 percent of their budget from Moscow. According to on 30 September quoting "Moskovskie novosti," that category includes Ingushetia (88.3 percent), Daghestan (81.3 percent), Chechnya (79.4 percent), Kabardino-Balkaria (73.4 percent), Karachaevo-Cherkessia (62.5 percent), North Ossetia (59.2 percent), and Adygeya (58.1 percent). Forfeiting control over republican finances would, in turn, severely curtail the ability of corrupt local leaders to dole out sweeteners and backhanders to henchmen and cronies. Putin demonstratively backed Kozak's proposal, stating that "we need a mechanism [to ensure] political and legal responsibility on the part of regional and local authorities for the end results of their performance in the economic sphere," "Izvestiya" reported. But legally formalizing those mechanisms may prove difficult and time-consuming, and as both Bagrych and Kozak have argued, the problems of the North Caucasus demand immediate and effective intervention before they become irreversible.

See also:

"Dmitrii Kozak -- Troubleshooter Or Whipping Boy?"

More news and analysis on the North Caucasus

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