Medvedev had advocated a new approach to the problems of the North Caucasus in his address to the Federation Council two months ago. On that occasion, he argued that the region's problems derive in the first instance from economic backwardness, unemployment, and high-level corruption.
Medvedev therefore proposed appointing a super-administrator for the region who would be empowered to act on the Kremlin's behalf, overruling republic heads if the need arose. But commentators questioned how that "tsar" or "viceroy" would coordinate his work with the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, former Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov. By hiving off the more problematic North Caucasus subjects, plus Stavropol (widely perceived as one of the two wealthiest), Medvedev has avoided that possible collision of interests.
Medvedev yesterday did not explain in detail what he expects of the new Caucasus administrator. He told Khloponin that as a deputy prime minister he should focus on economic issues, but that at the same time he will report directly to the president on issues such as personnel appointments, law and order, and security.
Some commentators expressed surprise that Medvedev selected Khloponin, whose background is in finance, to head the new district, rather than Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov or former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Both had been indentified as possible candidates, as had Ingush oligarch Mikhail Gutseriyev.
Political commentator Zaindi Chautayev pointed out to RFE/RL's Russian Service that Medvedev's recent comments about the need to hunt down and kill "terrorists" suggested he would appoint someone capable of doing just that. Instead, Chautayev pointed out, Medvedev has opted for tightening the screws on corrupt and inefficient local officials.
On the other hand, as Panorama Center head Vladimir Pribylovsky told RFE/RL's Russian Service, Khloponin may be a totally unknown quantity in the North Caucasus, but he made a favorable impression as governor. Khloponin has headed, first, the Taymyr Autonomous Oblast, and then (from 2005) Krasnoyarsk Krai.
"Of all our governors, approximately 10 of them can be singled out as people with undisputed administrative and economic talent, and without blatant corruption scandals," and Khloponin is one of them, Pribylovsky said.
The leaders of the republics that will be part of the new federal district have been slow to comment publicly on Khloponin's appointment.
Chechen Republic head Kadyrov sounded less than enthusiastic. He told reporters in Grozny that "if the head of state has placed his trust in Aleskandr Khloponin, that means [Khloponin] is capable of trying to resolve the region's problems."
Khloponin will focus primarily on economic problems, Kadyrov added. He said he "would like to hope" that the creation of the new district will help raise living standards in the North Caucasus, but fears it might deter potential investors.
Although Khloponin's headquarters will be in Pyatigorsk, Kadyrov advised him to spend up to a month living in Chechnya to familiarize himself with the republic, and offered to provide him with accommodation.
Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic President Boris Ebzeyev described the creation of a separate North Caucasus federal district as necessary and timely. Ebzeyev characterized Kholponin as someone well-acquainted with the social and economic problems facing Russia's regions, and capable of improving the situation in the North Caucasus.
Medvedev's decision has already triggered a debate on the Circassian websites elot.ru and heku.ru. One comment reads: "In the case of Khloponin, Medvedev has taken the most abstruse and complex decision, one that could have grave repercussions. It would be difficult to find anyone more alien to the North Caucasus today than the former governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai."
Some Circassians have expressed alarm that Adygeya (where the 110,000 Adygs constitute some 25 percent of the total population) has been artificially separated from Circassian communities in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Other postings discount the political impact of the creation of a separate federal district.
The heads of those Circassian public organizations that advocate redrawing the map of the North Caucasus to create a pan-Circassian republic within the Russian Federation have not yet commented on Medvedev's new initiative. Nor has Arsen Kanokov, whose Kabardino-Balkaria Republic is home to the largest single concentration of Circassians in the North Caucasus (approximately half a million). Kanokov's presidential term expires in September this year.