Putin Tries New Approach To Imposing Order In North Caucasus

caucasus_region_1994RFE/RL Caucasus Report | May 13, 2014

In a tacit admission that the situation in the North Caucasus differs radically from that elsewhere in the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin has made a series of personnel appointments clearly intended to strengthen Moscow’s control over developments there.

Putin has dismissed Aleksandr Khloponin, whom then-President Dmitry Medvedev had appointed in January 2010 to head the new North Caucasus Federal District, and named to replace him Interior Ministry Lieutenant General Sergei Melikov, the commander of the Combined Group of Forces in the North Caucasus.

Khloponin in his capacity as a deputy prime minister will, however, oversee a new ministry for the North Caucasus. Paradoxically, Putin has appointed to head that ministry a man with no previous experience of the region: Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Lev Kuznetsov. (Khloponin too once served as Krasnoyarsk Krai governor, a coincidence that has led some analysts to conclude that Kuznetsov is Khloponin’s protege). Putin commented that Kuznetsov "will be called on to use all his skills" in his new post.

The North Caucasus is not the first Russian region to have its "own" ministry. A separate ministry for the Far East was established two years ago, and one for Crimea in the wake of that region’s incorporation into the Russian Federation in mid-March 2014.

Most Russian analysts construe the creation of a ministry for the North Caucasus as reflecting a decision to separate responsibility for socioeconomic development from the ongoing campaign to stamp out the Islamic insurgency. Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic head Rashid Temrezov predicted that the move will make possible "a more active approach to resolving socioeconomic problems."

Professor Natalya Zubarevich, who heads the regional program at the Independent Institute for Social Policy, pointed out that the creation of a separate ministry was logical insofar as the office of the federal district head has no financial functions and is thus not empowered to allocate budget funds. Zubarevich and other analysts see the focus of the new ministry confined to attracting investment and monitoring the spending of subsidies allocated from the federal budget.

The new ministry is, however, in an unenviable position insofar as projected funding for the new long-term Federal Program for the North Caucasus has just been cut by a further 13 percent. Consequently, analysts predict that grandiose plans for developing tourism will be quietly shelved to free up scarce funds for constructions of schools, kindergartens, and medical facilities. (In Chechnya alone, 52 schools with a total of 14,000 students work in three shifts due to the shortage of school buildings.)

Khloponin’s replacement as presidential envoy was not entirely unexpected in light of a series of articles in the Russian press in mid-February criticizing his track record. As summarized by former Russian Nationalities Minister Vladimir Zorin, they painted "an alarmist picture" of what lies ahead as a result of Khloponin having pinned his hopes for socioeconomic development on huge injections of funds from the federal budget that were not forthcoming. At the same time, according to his critics, Khloponin failed to devote adequate attention and energy to combating the North Caucasus insurgency.

It is presumably the latter failing that Putin hoped to rectify by selecting Melikov as Khloponin’s successor. On the other hand, Putin simultaneously named a second Interior Ministry general, Nikolai Rogozhkin, to head the Siberian Federal District.

Melikov, 48, was born into a military family. His father is a retired Interior Ministry forces colonel and, to judge by his given name and patronymic (Alim Nurmagamedovich), a Lezgin. A brother, Mikhail, is an Interior Ministry forces major general.

Melikov entered the Interior Ministry Higher Military School in Saratov in 1982, and from 1986 spent his entire career serving in the Interior Ministry Internal Forces. In 2011, Putin appointed him commander of the combined group of forces engaged in "counterterrorist" operations in the North Caucasus and first deputy commander of the North Caucasus regional division of Interior Ministry Interior Forces.

Whether the two structures — the office of the presidential envoy and the new ministry — will function harmoniously in tandem or whether, as Konstantin Kazyonin of the Gaidar Institute of Economic Policy has suggested, they will find themselves in competition, is impossible to predict at this juncture.

Similarly unclear is what kind of accommodation Kuznetsov and Melikov will come to with what the independent Daghestani weekly "Chernovik" terms "the new regional political union" comprising Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov; Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov; Sagid Murtazaliyev, who heads the Daghestan administration of the Federal Pension Fund; and State Duma Deputy Rizvan Kurbanov. Kadyrov has welcomed the appointment of Melikov, whom he described as "our comrade in arms, a man of honor and of his word," and who has an in-depth knowledge of the situation in the region.

Paper discusses Kremlin’s North Caucasus reshuffle

Text of report by the website of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, often critical of the government on 16 May

[Irina Gordiyenko report: "Deal with it, Caucasus? Personnel boom in the Russian elite: a general-governor has been appointed for the Caucasus"]

Aleksandr Khloponin, authorized representative of the president in the North Caucasus Federal District, has been dismissed. Major-General Sergey Melikov, commander of the united force for counter-terror operations in the North Caucasus, has been appointed in his place. A new ministry for the affairs and development of the North Caucasus is being formed in the structure of the government, Lev Kuznetsov, governor of Krasnoyarsk Kray, has been put in charge here.

Vladimir Putin has thus finally eliminated the Medvedev "legacy" in the Caucasus.

Presidential Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov says: "Lev Kuznetsov will handle problems of employment, the attraction of investments, and the efficient use of public funds." Natalya Timakova, Dmitriy Medvedev’s press spokesman, told Novaya [Gazeta] that Aleksandr Khloponin "will remain as deputy premier and will continue to be responsible for the North Caucasus." Which is not surprising: Lev Kuznetsov, the new-fledged Caucasus minister, is a former associate of Khloponin’s, they worked for a long time together in Norilsk Nikel. Aleksandr Khloponin himself is saying nothing as yet. "We have first to know precisely what range of duties will be entrusted to Aleksandr Gennadiyevich in the government," Natalya Platonova, the deputy premier’s press spokeswoman, told Novaya.

Nonetheless, Aleksandr Khloponin may rather be congratulated on his dismissal than shown sympathy. The appointment to the post of Caucasus authorized representative in 2010 was for the successful businessman and Krasnoyarsk governor Khloponin, who had been far removed from Caucasus problems, a complete surprise.

In 2010 Dmitriy Medvedev, as president, began to reform government in the Caucasus. He decreed the detachment from the Southern Federal District of the Caucasus republics together with Stavropol, forming a new district. Medvedev justified his decision at that time by the need "to eradicate the problems of the region: corruption, terrorism, socio-cultural breakdown," not only by coercive, but also by economic, methods. This was effectually the start of a new policy of the federal centre in the Caucasus, the logical continuation of which was the announcement of Bortnikov, head of the FSB, in Makhachkala of a policy of reconciliation and dialogue, by which the security agencies would be guided.

The North Caucasus Federal District was accorded special status, federal target programmes were created for it, and Aleksandr Khloponin was dispatched to develop the region together with oligarchs of the Medvedev draft, natives of the Caucasus: Suleyman Kerimov, the Magomedov brothers, and the Bilalov brothers. On the threshold of the Sochi Olympics a repetition of the "Krasnoyarsk miracle" in the Caucasus was expected of Khloponin and big business: strong economic growth and unprecedented investment flows to the region.

But so ambitious a project was not destined to be.

Before the Medvedev reform, the problems of the Caucasus had for a long time been handled by Dmitriy Kozak, authorized representative in the Southern Federal District. A hard-nosed individual, he personally controlled the distribution of public funds in the region and the appointment of the key figures, up to and including the leaders of the republics. The Commission for Improvement of the Socioeconomic Situation in the Southern Federal District formed under him effectually replaced the government, tackling mainly business problems of the Caucasus. Aside from economic and personnel powers, Kozak had influence on the security officials also. He was part of Putin’s Commission To Coordinate the Activity of Federal Executive Institutions of the Southern Federal District consisting exclusively of directors of the security agencies.

Against this background, the restrained and even-tempered businessman Khloponin, who did not have the bulk of Kozak’s powers, was perceived very sceptically by the local elites. Khloponin banked mainly on an improvement in the image of the Caucasus, the development of resort areas in each republic, and youth policy.

Although the office of the authorized representative tried its utmost, there was no change in the attitude towards the new "Moscow" authority: it does not control the budget, it does not influence appointments, and it is not on friendly terms with the security officers, consequently, we can smile deferentially and do nothing, the Caucasus elites reasoned. This is why the majority of economic projects involving the support and development of small and medium-sized business became bogged down right at the outset. And the office of the authorized representative itself simply failed to cope with the stream of problems. Although there was one, and very important, effect of the new Medvedev policy, nonetheless: an improvement in the crime environment in the Caucasus, the "dialogue and reconciliation" about which Bortnikov spoke resulted in a sharp reduction in the outflow of youth to the forest to joint up with the rebels.

We should note that it was not so much the office of the authorized representative that was to blame for the economic failure as much as the changed political situation in the country. Vladimir Putin became president once again in 2012, and all the undertakings of the Medvedev era came to be wound up as "excessive liberal-mongering". The policy of reconciliation and dialogue came to be changed abruptly in favour of strong-arm methods, and the majority of Khloponin’s associates, young and sensible professionals, on whom he could rely, left the office of the authorized representative for Moscow. Big business began to have problems also. In the end the oligarchs were forced to wind up all their projects in the Caucasus, image projects included (it is sufficient to recall the saga of Kerimov and the Anzhi soccer club), and some, "Comrade Bilalov," ex-head of North Caucasus Resorts, who was accused of embezzlement, in particular, would altogether become emigres. The North Caucasus itself on the threshold of the approaching Olympics was in the direct and metaphorical sense bottled up under martial law. And the point of the activity of the office of the authorized representative was conclusively reduced to nothing. The Olympics passed, it was the Caucasus’s turn.

Vladimir Putin is by his personnel repositioning effectually converting the Caucasus back to manual-control mode. Economic issues and distribution of the budget have been farmed out to the newly formed ministry. Although it is not as yet clear who after the disgraced oligarchs would want to invest in the Caucasus republics. The post of authorized representative is now held by Sergey Melikov, general of the MVD. The 49-year-old general is an ethnic Dagestani, although he was born and raised in Moscow Oblast. He went to serve in the Caucasus back in 1994, after graduating from the Frunze Military Academy, fought in the first Chechen war, and subsequently took charge of a separate MVD operations division, and as of 2011 he directed the joint Interior Troops’ force in the North Caucasus, and has a badge of distinction – the maroon beret. And although the post of authorized representative still does not presume power authority, it is hard to imagine with such a biography that the new authorized representative will remain aloof from decisions made by the uniformed agencies in the Caucasus. Specially since, according to Novaya’s information, Melikov will have the possibility of directly influencing the appointments and dismissals of the directors of federal entities throughout the North Caucasus.

The leaders of Dagestan and Ingushetia commented specially for Novaya on the personnel shuffles in the office of the authorized representative

Ramazan Abdulatipov: It is good that not only the office of the authorized representative in a new capacity led by Sergey Alimovich but also, in parallel, a ministry for the affairs and development of the North Caucasus are being formed. This will make it possible to tackle not only military-political issues but also the economic and cultural development of our region. The North Caucasus needs to gradually move away from coercive methods of regulation of the situation towards economic and cultural methods. This effort needs to be organized together with other regions and the entire state. As I see it, the office of the authorized representative and the ministry should switch to another management model – effective development. Maybe it is necessary to have fewer grants and subsidies and to afford an opportunity for independent and effective development. The Caucasus will respond to even the slightest organizational and managerial efforts that are made. The Caucasus is ready for a new stage of its revival.

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov: The change of authorized representative and the formation of a ministry for the affairs of the North Caucasus is the second stage of Vladimir Putin’s new managerial policy. The appointment of Sergey Melikov as authorized representative indicates that management is switching to the political plane, that the emphasis will now be put on the socioeconomic component of development of the region. I am acquainted with Sergey Alimovich personally, he is a combatant officer, good manager, and fair person with a straightforward character. He has an excellent grasp not only of military subtleties but of the political situation in the Caucasus also and is on good terms with the leaders of all the republics. He understands that problems cannot be resolved by military methods alone and that it is essential to bring order to bear by raising people’s living standard and uplifting the economy.

Ramzan Kadyrov thanked Vladimir Putin for the wise decisions on the website of the government of the Chechen Republic: "Our ‘friends’ – the West and Europe – will nonetheless attempt to undermine the situation in the Caucasus and in Russia as a whole. It is a big plus, therefore, that a military man is in charge of the district. I believe that the main emphasis will be put on a solution of questions of the security and economic development of regions of the North Caucasus Federal District," Kadyrov said. "There’s nothing more for us to add," Alvi Karimov, his press spokesman, told Novaya.

Source: Novaya Gazeta website, Moscow, in Russian 16 May 14

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