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Analysis & Opinion
20.01.10 A Human Shield
By Roland Oliphant

Dmitry Medvedev’s creation of a new Federal District for the North Caucasus is a sign of how seriously the Kremlin takes the growing violence in the region. His choice of representative – Krasnoyarsk governor Alexander Khloponin – signifies his new strategy: sending in relatively specialist experts with no connection to the local elites, and, above all, delegating the North Caucasian headache to someone else.

The new arrangement will put the troubled north-Caucasian republics of Karachaevo-Chekessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan, along with the Stavropol region, under the authority of a single, uniquely influential federal representative.

The seven (now eight) Federal Districts were created by then-President Vladimir Putin in 2000 as a way of consolidating federal power over the regions. Each is headed by an envoy - the president’s personal representative – who is meant to influence key personnel decisions and liaise with the security and law-enforcement bodies. The envoys’ formal powers are limited, however, and the job has usually been used as a retirement position for long-standing civil servants.

The exception to that rule was Dmitry Kozak, now a deputy prime minister, who was sent to oversee the Southern Federal District in the wake of the Beslan school seige in 2004. He was given more explicit authority as a trouble-shooter, but Alexander Khloponin has been given greater authority than even Kozak wielded. He is the first of the envoys to combine presidential authority with the financial powers of a deputy prime minister. This “unique situation,” as President Dmitry Medvedev himself called it on Tuesday in a meeting with Khloponin, is meant to give the latter the ability to combine socio-economic projects with the fight against terrorism. Economic development was “essential,” said Medvedev, making Khloponin’s task quite clear.

Khloponin, 44, is certainly able with money. An economist by training (he is a graduate of the international economy faculty at the Moscow Financial Institute, where he studied alongside future-oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov), and a businessman by profession (he is a former CEO and chairman of Norilsk Nickel), he used his financial acumen – and his contacts - to good effect in making the Krasnoyarsk Region into a showcase for economic development.
Under his governorship the region has seen one of the highest inflows of investment amongst Russia’s federal subjects, and an impressively increased regional budget. But he has not done it unaided: in 2005, just before a referendum on Krasnoyarsk’s absorption of the Taymir and Evenki Autonomous Districts, then-President Putin allocated assigned money from the federal budget for major development projects, including development of an oil field and a hydroelectric power station, and the reconstruction of the regional airport. And in May of last year, Khloponin’s old classmate Prokhorov registered as a permanent resident of a small village in the north of the Siberian region, contributing his considerable income to the regional tax office.

Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, points out that those inclined to see any development in Russian politics through the prism of “between Putin and Medvedev” can read Khloponin’s dual appointment (on the one hand, an envoy answerable to president Medvedev, on the other – a deputy of prime minister Putin) as a way of splitting power. “It formalizes Putin’s leading role in decision-making,” said Petrov.

But there are other reasons for the choice of candidate. Since Khloponin is a former businessman, the Kremlin sees him as a “specialist” who could address the region’s chronic economic problems, and as an outsider he is unconnected with the local elites, which will to some extent insulate him from corruption.

This follows a well-established trend in Kremlin thinking on the North Caucasus, said Alexei Mukhin, the head of the Center for Political Information, a Moscow-based think tank. Just as career-soldier Yunnus-bek Yevkurov was appointed President of Ingushetia partly as a military man who could get to grips with the insurgency (and rein in the out-of-control security agencies), Khloponin is meant to bring the financial and business skills of a professional. And, like Yevkurov, his lack of prior ties to local clan interests should make him better able to fight corruption than a local appointee.

But there’s another reason why Putin and Medvedev may have created this unique position for him: sheer impatience. “Both Medvedev and Putin are tired of the heads of North Caucasian regions coming to Moscow and expecting either the president or the premier to resolve their problems. Now they’ll have to go to Khloponin, who can act on behalf of both of them,” said Mukhin.

It’s unclear whether the republic’s leaders who have so bothered the president and prime minister were consulted, but they seemed pretty happy with the idea when the Kommersant daily asked them about it. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov spoke hopefully of investment and job-creation; over the border in Ingushetia, Yevkurov endorsed the decision to appoint a manager rather than a security official, “because the region has excessive numbers of siloviki, and not enough business leaders;” and President Boris Ebzeev of Karachaevo-Cherkessia called it an “unexpected…but prudent and correct” decision, the paper reported.

But there would be no point in complaining even if they didn’t like it. Quite apart from formalizing the power tandem, Khloponin’s dual authority from both the presidential and prime-ministerial “verticals of power” leaves the local elites with little choice, said Mukhin.
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