March 2nd 2010 · Prague Watchdog / Sergei Markedonov · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

A new turn in the Kremlin's Caucasus policy: from "governor-general" to "successful management"

A new turn in the Kremlin's Caucasus policy: from "governor-general" to "successful management"

By Sergei Markedonov, special to Prague Watchdog
Moscow, Russia

On January 19, 2010 Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree re-creating the North Caucasus Federal District (SKFO) within new borders. Additional to this bureaucratic transformation was the appointment of a new presidential envoy whose task is to stabilize the situation in this troubled region of Russia. The post has been given to the former governor of Krasnoyarsk, Alexander Khloponin.

But can we say that with the re-creation of the SKFO and the appearance of a new "chief civil servant" for the Caucasus who does not have behind him a career in the KGB or the military, Russia's policy has undergone a significant change? It seems that a positive answer to this question may at least not be premature.

For one thing, Khloponin’s appearance in the North Caucasus is not at all in keeping with the "modernization" rhetoric which has by now become the leitmotif of speeches by Russia's “power tandem". In his presidential address to the Federal Assembly Medvedev made an impassioned call for renewal: "Changes take place,” he said, “only where there is an opportunity for open discussion on emerging issues, for the fair competition of ideas that determine the method of their solution, where people value social stability and respect the law.” A fair comment, but how does it relate to the criteria that were used in Khloponin’s selection? Was there really a broad-based discussion (both on a national and a regional level) of the likely candidates for the post of envoy? It would certainly be interesting to know what ideas and approaches the new envoy has brought to the Caucasus, what strategy he intends to adopt in the countering of the terrorist threat, the corruption and nepotism in the region And, if he has no such strategy as yet, then who will develop it, and when.

It is true that Khloponin is a symbol of some hope for change in the situation in the Caucasus. Before January 2010 he was not engaged with the problems of the region, and so he has no complete programme of action. Although more than a month has passed since his arrival on the scene, the composition of his team is practically unknown, his future priorities unclear. A presentation of policy at the government meeting in Pyatigorsk (one recalls Ramzan Kadyrov’s friendly and somewhat familiar pat on the new envoy’s shoulder), a speech introducing the new president of Dagestan to the deputies of the republic’s National Assembly, and a cautious statement that Moscow should not allow the unification of the Caucasus regions to become an idée fixe – that is the modest list of the "actions" of the official with "special powers" and a double allegiance. As a servant of two masters, Khloponin will inevitably be drawn into competition with the apparatchiks of the White House and the Kremlin. This will weaken his own mobility and will make him a hostage of their rivalries and disputes.

Alexander Khloponin has inherited a difficult legacy. It includes the unstable situation in Ingushetia and Dagestan, the growth of radical Islamism, the ethnic and political problems, old and new, the promotion of a compromise between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, and the appetite for power that is characteristic of the leaders of Chechen Republic.

From an administrative and bureaucratic point of view the most difficult aspect of this situation is that it will be virtually impossible for him to criticize the mistakes of his predecessor. The District is a new creation, and in Russia it is not done to connect unsolved problems with systemic phenomena.

The eminent nineteenth-century Russian jurist and historian Alexander Gradovsky rightly considered that political unity between regions cannot be achieved merely by “putting in place a person vested with excessive power”, because such unity depends on the combined action of “uniform statutes”. Translated into today’s political terms this approach means that one Caucasus republic will not vegetate while the region next door reports the commissioning of new residential buildings, cultural centeres and mosques, demonstrating "successful management". While the whole secret of its "efficiency" lies in the amount of budgetary funds that have been allocated to it, an amount determined by the special "closeness" of the regional leader to the highest offices in Moscow.

In Gradovsky’s view, another important prerequisite of Russia’s "unity" is the attainment of a situation where "all the citizens are placed under the protection of common law, and the rights of all are based upon that law.” This is really what Russia's human rights activists in the North Caucasus mean when they argue that the requirement of loyalty to the state is possible (and justifiable) only on condition that the authorities themselves respect their own Constitution and adopted laws.

If we accept the thesis that the era of the governor-general is now over in the North Caucasus, it would be useful to gain some idea of the range of policy instruments that are available to a top Caucasus envoy in the “post-governor-general” era. On this question the Russian government has extremely contradictory ideas. In reality, both Putin and Medvedev proceed on the assumption that the “new-style” North Caucasus official must engage in a "tightening” of the North Caucasus economy. Among Khloponin’s prorities have been mentioned the fight against unemployment, the improvement of the investment climate and the creation of new jobs. However, this understanding of the challenges faced by the envoy in his work seems extremely narrow. Russia’s tandem is attempting (as are many political experts) to juxtapose two plans of action and two types of management. One of these can be called the "general" ( from “governor-general") type, in which the economy, society and government are bound up in a policy with a clear "emergency" character. The other type of management is purely economic, with the focus exclusively on financial recovery and the fight against various social ills. And all of this is supposed to lead the region out of crisis.

A contrast of this kind seems artificial, for several reasons. For one thing, the use of force alone (especially if it is not based on solid legal grounds) cannot ensure public confidence in the authorities, or the legitimacy of the state and municipal institutions. For another, mere economic administration carried out with neglect of the political and ethno-cultural problems will make the envoy a "Caucasian Muscovite", divorced from reality and not knowing how to respond to local conditions.

It seems never to occur to anyone at the “top" that politics cannot be totally excluded from the North Caucasus and replaced by economics (they are two sides of the same coin, but face in two different directions). There is no understanding of the simple fact that Caucasus policy is not necessarily state power politics backed up by military force. Caucasus policy involves information technology, support for the institutions of civil society (by which an efficient envoy can minimize the risks posed by local oligarchs and bureaucrats), and the introduction of the idea of Russia as a civil nation. It will also entail a significant improvement of educational standards and programmes (especially in the humanitarian field) – this and the creation of a better judicial system and better law enforcement agencies. It is all perfectly possible without the use of "mop-ups" and “CTO regimes”, and is just as important as the economic objectives.

But the appointment of Alexander Khloponin to the post of envoy to the North Caucasus presents a much more important institutional question. How efficient is the institution of presidential appointees? Ever since its establishment its importance has repeatedly been increased and reduced. Of course, we are talking about the actual (rather than formal and legal) raising and lowering of its profile within in the same logic of informal administrative control, conducted according to rules set behind the scenes rather than in terms of public policy. But the most dangerous challenge to the institution of regional envoys has traditionally come from the behaviour of the highest echelons of government, which seem not to have really understood the purpose for which the institution was created. Is it the "sovereign's eye", watching over the governors and presidents of national republics? Or is it a huge reporting and analytical service for the drawing of an adequate "picture" of what is happening in the state? Is the correction of regional legislation the envoy’s final goal, or only an intermediate one, resulting in a gigantic bureaucratization of the institution, which turns out to be capable of reproducing only itself. Whether this will be repeated in the new District, only the near future will tell.

So far, however, the results are as follows: the North Caucasus (both within the framework of the South and outside that framework) has experienced everyone and everything – everything, that is, apart from a clear development strategy oriented towards a multi-level integration of this region into Russia's social structure, and apart from clear criteria for assessing the efficiency of government officials. Everything – apart from constitutional liberty and political predictability, the rule of formal law and rules of the game that everyone can understand.

Photo: Website of "Krasnoyarsk Krai".

(Translation by DM)

© 2010 Prague Watchdog (see Reprint info).




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