Some 1,500 Balkars congregated
on July 25 at the monument near Nalchik to the victims of Soviet-era political reprisals to discuss the impact and repercussions of the "counterterror operation" conducted in the Elbruz district in the extreme west of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) from June 30 until early on July 13.
That operation effectively isolated the district, many of whose residents scrape a living from tourism, at the start of the summer tourist season. The republican authorities subsequently claimed to have secured large quantities of weaponry and to have averted several planned terrorist acts, but there were no reports of fighting, or of any militants being apprehended. The news agency Regnum dubbed the exercise the "most mystifying counterterror operation ever."
Participants at the July 25 meeting, which was organized by the unofficial Council of Elders of the Balkar People, adopted a statement, a copy of which was provided to Regnum, addressed to Vladimir Serdyuk, who heads the KBR subsidiary of the Federal Security Service (FSB). That statement threatened to lobby Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to replace KBR President Arsen Kanokov if Constitutional Court rulings that address long-standing Balkar grievances are not implemented within one month.
That statement claimed that the local prosecutor's office in Elbruz announced after the counterterrorism operation ended that no explosives, ammunition, or arms were found in Elbruz. The statement claimed that the materiel shown on central television channels and identified as having been confiscated during the operation in Elbruz was in fact seized earlier near Nalchik (which lies in the extreme east of the KBR).
The July 25 statement further explained that Elbruz residents believe the counterterror operation was mounted in retaliation for a protest staged by Balkar residents of Elbruz last month against mass layoffs and salary arrears at a local cable-car network; against the republican government's rejection of an investment proposal that would have created 800 jobs; and against the confiscation of individual plots of land.
On June 12, some 2,000 Elbruz residents blocked the only federal highway leading to the district. They refused to talk to KBR Prime Minister Andrei Yarin and Interior Minister Yury Tomchak, who travelled to the region to meet with them, and dispersed only after the arrival of Kanokov, who met individually with 27 local residents and promised assistance in resolving their various problems.
Kanokov travelled to Elbruz again on June 17 for a further meeting with disgruntled local residents. He explained to them that 30 percent of investment within the republic goes to Elbruz, most of it to the tourism sector. At the same time, he warned the Balkars that "we must not let ourselves be drawn into endless discussions of interethnic relations," meaning the grievances the Balkar minority, which accounts for just 11 percent of the republic's population, harbors against the Kabardian majority. Balkars came away from an earlier meeting with Kanokov in October 2008 frustrated and complaining
that "he didn't understand us [and] he doesn't want to understand."
The statement adopted at the July 25 meeting ended with an ultimatum to the KBR authorities to implement within one month Constitutional Court rulings overturning legislation passed in 2005 that deprived residents of access to mountain pastures and abolished the status as separate municipalities of the settlements of Khasanya and Belaya Rechka on the southwestern outskirts of Nalchik. Those villages were subsumed into the Nalchik municipality.
The statement warned that if those rulings are not implemented, the Balkars will lobby President Medvedev to replace Kanokov as personally responsible for a "serious deterioration" in the political and socioeconomic situation in the republic.