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Crunch Time For Khloponin

Aleksandr Khloponin has been given more power, but will it lead to "quick change?"
Aleksandr Khloponin has been given more power, but will it lead to "quick change?"
The Russian government approved on May 14 a directive drafted by North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin that gives him sole authority to appoint and dismiss representatives in the North Caucasus of federal agencies subordinate to the Russian government.

It also transfers to the Russian Ministry for Regional Development overall responsibility for coordinating the activities of all 34 separate government ministries and agencies engaged in programs related to the socioeconomic development of the region, and presumably also -- although this was not explicitly spelled out -- for disbursing and monitoring the use of federal funds allocated for that purpose.

Those changes mean that Khloponin will be empowered to appoint and dismiss the regional heads of those agencies, including the Federal Tax Service, and issue direct orders to them. In addition, and more importantly, they will limit the leeway hitherto enjoyed by republican leaders to adjust the parameters of budget spending at their own discretion. As one unnamed senior North Caucasus official commented to "RBC Daily" on May 17, this is a message to the Caucasus that the era of unrestricted cash flows to the region as a means of buying the loyalty of republic heads is at an end.

Those changes are not unexpected, insofar as Khloponin has repeatedly affirmed since his appointment four months ago, that he sees the key to long-term political stability in the region in expediting economic development through large-scale targeted investment.

He has met separately with the leaders of all seven federation subjects and solicited from them proposals for economic projects that would best utilize available resources, including manpower. (Visiting Kabardino-Balkaria a month ago, Khloponin estimated unemployment in the North Caucasus at over 20 percent of the able-bodied population.) Those proposals will be compared and coordinated to avoid duplication.

But however laudable and well-intentioned such plans are, they are only half the picture. Even assuming that Khloponin's new mechanism is effective against embezzlement by local leaders, economic development on the scale envisaged cannot and will not provide a "quick fix" to the region's problems. And it fails to address, let alone reduce, the alienation and anger of an impoverished and disenfranchised population at the mercy of corrupt petty bureaucrats and a police force predisposed to indiscriminate brutality against suspects who all too often turn out to be innocent of any crime.

In addition, any move by Khloponin to sack inefficient or corrupt officials and replace them with his own appointees is likely to encounter resistance from one or even several rival local interest groups seeking to protect or impose their own candidate(s). Bringing in qualified officials from elsewhere in Russia who have no knowledge of conditions in the North Caucasus is equally fraught with risk.

Finally, as the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" pointed out, it is by no means clear how much leverage Khloponin has over his "deputies" from the security forces, Major General Vladimir Svetsov (FSB) and Colonel General Arkady Yedelev (Interior Ministry). Yedelev is reputedly close to Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, who arguably has more to lose than any of his colleagues from any measures to restrict the flow of federal subsidies from Moscow to Grozny and to monitor more closely how that money is spent.

Whether and how Kadyrov could sabotage the proposed new system is not immediately clear, however.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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