Tkachev, who has been governor of Krasnodar for over a decade, made the offending statements on August 2 during a meeting with representatives of local law enforcement agencies. Tkachev said neighboring Stavropol Krai no longer functions effectively as a "filter" to keep labor migrants from the North Caucasus out of Krasnodar, and measures are therefore urgently needed to prevent any changes to the ratio of Russians to non-Russians among the region's population. Russians currently account for 88.3 percent of the population, Armenians 5.5 percent, and Ukrainians 1.6 percent. No other ethnic group accounts for more than 1 percent.
In that context, Tkachev cited the example of "former Yugoslavia," where he claimed "the ratio of Croats to Albanians" was reversed in just 50 years from 80:20 percent to 20:80 percent. He stressed the need to preserve what he clearly sees as a separate Kuban/Cossack identity and mentality, referring to the Cossacks as a distinct ethnic group.
Tkachev said it has been decided to deploy as of September 1 Cossack police units who will patrol jointly with regular police, conduct document checks, escort suspicious individuals to a police station, and, if needed, break up fights between representatives of different ethnic groups. (In a subsequent interview, he cited as a danger signal a mass brawl in Sochi a few months ago between local Armenians and construction workers from Daghestan.)
Tkachev said the Cossack volunteer police will not be armed. At the same time, he implied that they will act more decisively than regular police are authorized to do, albeit within the framework of the law and the Russian Constitution.
Tkachev made clear, however, that the measures he envisages are not directed against the Armenian, Circassian, and "Daghestani" minorities who have lived in Krasnodar for generations. (As a former chairman of the State Duma Committee for Nationality Issues, Tkachev should have known that "Daghestanis" are not an ethnic group.) Tkachev claimed those communities share his apprehension at the possible negative effects of uncontrolled mass immigration.
Outrage Across Region
Tkachev's address triggered a storm of outrage and criticism. The Public Chamber said it would ask the federal Prosecutor-General's Office to rule on whether Tkachev should be formally charged with inciting interethnic enmity.
Organizations representing the Circassian minority in the Republic of Adygheya, which constitutes an enclave within Krasnodar Krai, formally demanded Tkachev's resignation.
The Imam Shamil Avar National Movement that represents Daghestan's largest ethnic group called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismiss Tkachev and on Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika to bring a formal charge against him.
Chechen parliament speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov was among several who suggested that Tkachev was seeking to deflect criticism of his handling of the catastrophic flooding during the night of July 6-7 that killed some 165 residents in Krymsk.
Abdurakhmanov further made the point that the population of the North Caucasus republics are Russian citizens and therefore "not immigrants on the territory of our own country."
Valery Zverenkov, appointed just three months ago as governor of Stavropol Krai, rejected Tkachev's characterization of his region as a "filter." He said he would take no part in what Tkachev described as "trying to squeeze out" undesirable elements. At the same time, Zverenkov endorsed the idea of volunteer Cossack police units and even suggested that they could be issued with arms.
'Can't We All Just Get Along?'
Tkachev's stated intention of precluding an escalation of ethnic tensions by minimizing the influx into Krasnodar of disruptive and criminal elements may be halfway justified. But his implicit identification of immigrants from Daghestan and other North Caucasus republics as the cause of such tensions, and therefore unwelcome, and his argument that the current ratio of Russians to non-Russians should be preserved at all cost is tantamount to a claim for privileged status within the Russian Federation and thus, as his critics point out, unconstitutional.
It is conceivable that the overwhelmingly negative reaction Tkachev's address elicited was due at least in part not to the substance of what he said, but the language he used and the fact that his most colorful phrases were quoted out of context. Even the ataman of the Terek Cossacks, Igor Logvinenko, said Tkachev should have expressed himself "more correctly" and made it clear that the Cossack police units will be tasked with apprehending all those who violate the law, regardless of their ethnicity and where they come from.
Kadyrov, for his part, said Tkachev's proposed restrictions on citizens of other North Caucasus republics moving to Krasnodar was "illogical" given the need for additional workers in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Such restrictions, Kadyrov added, "are difficult to reconcile with the Olympic spirit."
Noting that Tkachev's success in attracting investment led him to regard him as a role model, Kadyrov said he was convinced Tkachev is wise enough to refrain in future from steps that could prove damaging to his region, the North Caucasus, and Russia as a whole. He suggested that the heads of all the North Caucasus republics should meet "informally" to discuss problems with ethnic relations.
Why Kadyrov waited almost two weeks before commenting on Tkachev's pronouncements, and whether he was put up to it by his longtime patron and protector, Putin, can only be guessed at. To date, no top Russian official has mentioned Tkachev's speech, although Tkachev himself has adduced Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's statement at a cabinet meeting last week about the need to control labor migration from one region of the Russian Federation to another to preclude the formation of "enclaves" as a tacit endorsement of his proposed approach to the problem.
Alternatively, Kadyrov may not have been able to resist the temptation to metaphorically thumb his nose at Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. Responding earlier this month to Kadyrov's criticism of him, Yevkurov said the heads of federation subjects should desist from publicly disparaging each other. And/or Kadyrov may see Tkachev's predicament -- whether or not it culminates in his replacement as governor -- as an opportunity to extend his political influence into Krasnodar and Stavropol krais.