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Caucasus Report: October 7, 2005

7 October 2005, Volume 8, Number 35

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DEMONSTRATES SUPPORT FOR EMBATTLED ENVOY. Speaking at a 23 September conference attended by North Caucasus leaders, 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. While those proposals might ultimately prove unworkable, they are likely to encounter resistance from regional leaders who just a few months ago were only too happy to rely on Kozak's intervention to defuse crises that threatened their own positions.

Putin's endorsement of Kozak's proposals for imposing more stringent controls on budget spending by "debtor" republics might have been partially intended as a rebuttal of a newspaper article depicting in particularly bleak terms the situation in the North Caucasus and criticizing Kozak's alleged inability to bring about any substantive improvement in the situation during the 12 months since his appointment. That article, the authorship of which remains a mystery, was published in a south Russian newspaper in mid-September and immediately reprinted by several national dailies. Its negative characterization of regional leaders suggests that despite its place of publication, it originated not in the Southern Federal District, but with a faction or factions within the Kremlin that regards Kozak with hostility and suspicion and does not wish to see him rise to a more prominent position. Kozak himself told journalists unequivocally on 23 September that he has no intention of running for president in 2008, when President Putin's second term expires.

The article criticizing Kozak appeared in the weekly newspaper "Yuzhnii federal'nyi." Its author was identified as Yekaterina Bagrych, a student at Rostov-na-Donu State University, but no journalist has succeeded in tracing any student of that name. The "Bagrych" 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 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 24 June 2005), 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 put an end to interethnic conflict, replace incompetent and corrupt bureaucracies, or eradicate unemployment and poverty. She 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 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 does not add that the free economic zone that existed for several years in Ingushetia failed to serve as the motor for an economic upswing.)

Bagrych claims 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. That allegation is not strictly true: Kozak's predecessor as presidential representative to the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, drafted a five-year (2000-05) plan for regional development, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 November 2000. How systematically that plan was implemented, and in which spheres, if any, its provisions brought about the desired improvement remains unclear, however.

Bagych further accuses Kozak personally and his team of advisers 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 phenomena, 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 might 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, 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 that 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 its most general terms, the problem facing Kozak, and by extension Putin, is the lack of an overall strategy for the North Caucasus; the disinclination, or inability, of local leaders to come 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, 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.

Moreover, the prospect of ceding control over spending might impel those local leaders who have benefited from Kozak's activities as "firefighter" defusing burgeoning crises to turn against him, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested on 6 October. The paper quoted National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii as pointing out that "leaders in the Caucasus understand perfectly" who is strong and who is weak, and they see that the center is "desperately weak and does not control the situation in the regions. They pretend to be loyal in return for non-interference in their affairs on the part of the center." Those same leaders might also find it expedient to offload onto Kozak the blame for the storm of protest engendered by his plans for municipal reform. (Liz Fuller)

'NO MUSLIMS NEED APPLY.' The change in the top leadership in Kabardino-Balkaria has provided the unusual opportunity for a glimpse into the ways in which officials across the northern Caucasus have been exploiting the threat of Wahhabism to demonstrate their loyalty and importance to Moscow and to extract more resources for themselves. But their efforts are proving increasingly counterproductive: On the one hand, their focus on Wahhabism has meant that the police there have failed to prevent a dramatic rise in ordinary crime. And on the other hand, the brutality and heavy-handedness of their attacks on this form of Islam has divided local society and radicalized ever more Muslims. Indeed, the situation has deteriorated to the point in Kabardino-Balkaria that 400 local Muslims have appealed to President Vladimir Putin for permission to emigrate and that officials in Moscow and the regions fear that radical Islam will now spread from this to other Circassian republics, including Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Adygeya, and Abkhazia.

Arsen Kanokov, the newly-installed president of Kabardino-Balkaria, even said last week that the closing of mosques in that republic by officials was "a mistake" and that pro-Moscow Muslim structures there must either "enjoy authority among believers or yield" to someone who can, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2005). Whether Kanokov will be able to change the situation remains to be seen, but his comments provided the occasion for the appearance of a remarkable article in "Kommersant-Vlast" which describes in great detail the ways in which officials are exploiting the existence of Wahhabism without doing much to counter it effectively.

"Kommersant-Vlast" journalist Olga Allenova described her conversations with Muslim leaders in Kabardino-Balkara, who described both how complicated the religious and political situation has become in that republic and the ways in which the authorities have been making it worse.

Andimirkan Guchayev, who studied in Saudi Arabia and who is identified by the authorities as a Wahhabi, told Allenova that his jamaat has nothing to do with the Muslim groups in Chechnya but that officials in both the local Muslim Spiritual Directorate (DUM) and the government lack any understanding of such distinctions. (That criticism might not be entirely justified: a subsequent issue of "Kommersant-Vlast" contained an interview with Kabardino-Balkaria DUM head Anas Pshikhachev, who remarked that "The Kabardians have a saying: 'Tell him to bring the hat and he'll bring the head too.' That's what the efforts of our law enforcement agencies remind me of. Purporting to fight extremism, they are ready to treat as a wahhabi anyone who sports a beard or observes the rite of daily prayers.")

Guchayev added that "there are people working in the DUM who have not received any fundamental religious instruction," and that imams subordinate to that structure "cannot answer people's questions because they studied in Soviet times when religion was not given a great deal of attention." Instead, he continued, the DUM depends on the Interior Ministry, conducting briefings at police headquarters and handing over lists of "Wahhabis" to the police who then "arrest, question and torture" them without having any understanding of the differences between ordinary Muslims and dangerous radicals.

One local man told "Kommersant-Vlast'" that he was called in by the militia and asked why he wanted to be a Wahhabi. The man said he explained that he wanted "to live by the rules -- not to drink, smoke, stealm or kill." But the militia told him that "it's better to drink and carouse than to have anything to do with the Wahhabis." Another local man, a teacher of physical education, said that the director of his school has been told not to hire any believers at all. In a neighboring school, he reported, a woman who applied to teach foreign languages was rejected, even though she had two diplomas, because she wore a head scarf. "And at the entrance of the sports hall there now hangs a sign: 'Believers not admitted,'" the man continued. Such actions only "please" the real criminals, he added, because "all the attention of the militia is directed at [Muslims]" which allowed "the criminal groups to begin to breathe easily when the Wahhabis appeared."

Asked why he thinks the authorities -- including the interior minister, the prosecutor and their subordinates -- are acting this way, the physical education instructor said that "they want to hold on to power and to show [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that they control the situation, that here everything is so bad that only they are able to do so. Putin simply does not know about this." He continued: "The authorities have created Wahhabism [as a threat because] it is a good feeding trough. Money is disbursed from the budget for the struggle against religious extremism, and when the militia conducts cleansing operations against Muslim groups, even more money is given out." In order to support this kind of a campaign and hence their own positions, the teacher continued, the authorities need "to create an image of the enemy and to guarantee themselves a victory over that enemy" by the display of massive force. "Then in Moscow people will think that without [such local officials] the world will collapse."

But in fact, by vastly overstating the threat and then brutally countering it, the authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria, just like those in other parts of the North Caucasus, have only made things worse, with the local population now ever more suspicious of the officials and ever more willing to listen to radical, even violent opponents of the existing regime. (Paul Goble)

ARMENIANS WANT TO ELECT THEIR LOCAL LEADERS. Nearly two of every three Armenians living outside Yerevan would like to elect their regional governors, who are currently appointed by the central government, according to an opinion poll released on 30 September. Under the existing post-Soviet constitution, Armenia's capital and 10 "marzes," or regions, are run by officials whose main function is to "implement the government's regional policy and coordinate the regional activities of republican executive bodies." The regions do not have any legislative bodies that would hold the governors in check. In addition, the governors can effectively dismiss elected mayors of towns and villages.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a private think-tank that conducted the poll, said 63.5 percent of a thousand people randomly interviewed in regions outside Yerevan want to have elected governors because they believe the latter would be more accountable to them and more interested in addressing their problems. Only a fifth of respondents thought that the current regional chiefs are contributing to the development of their region.

A package of constitutional amendments drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his ruling coalition envisages no changes in the existing system of regional governance. It would only introduce the election of Yerevan's mayor by a municipal council.

Still, a separate survey conducted by the ACNIS suggests that just over half of Yerevan residents want to elect their mayor directly and only 6 percent support his or her indirect election. Armenia's leading opposition forces similarly want direct elections for the psot of Yerevan mayor.

The ACNIS polls also indicate widespread popular distrust in the elected administrations of Yerevan districts, towns and villages. Over 70 percent of respondents in Yerevan and 60 percent outside it said they are unaware of activities of their community chiefs. Less than 30 percent approved of their work. This helps to explain why the voter turnout in most local elections held across Armenia in recent weeks has been well below 50 percent. (Ruzanna Stepanian)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The main counter-terrorism operation in the south of Russia should be an operation to create new jobs." -- Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, in an interview published in "Vremya novostei," No. 183, 4 October 2005.

"For some reason if a young Russian man goes to church, it's considered normal, but if a Muslim goes to the mosque, it means he's a wahhabi." -- Retired Lieutenant-General Supyan Beppaev, head of the public organization Alan, in an interview with reposted by on 2 October.