Writing in the Moscow Times, Nikolai Petrov comments on Alexander Khloponin’s new job as the presidential envoy to the North Caucasus, one of the worst jobs imaginable. So this is clearly one of the best and brightest in the Russian government, and one of the few to be free from any corruption scandals, but do these managerial skills translate into success in bringing peace to a region of open civil war? I think the answer will lie in just how much of a mandate he is allowed to have against the Kremlin policy for the region. Petrov doesn’t think that he will be able to generate enough authority to have an impact, but we’ll see what kind of reaction this fresh change brings to the politics of the region.
There is no doubt that Khloponin is highly effective as a crisis manager. He has strong business experience and connections, understands the institutions needed for development and how to use them, and knows how to rely on a qualified team for support. But those skills alone are no guarantee of success at his new post. Although Khloponin has a strong track record in attracting large investment projects, ensuring the proper and transparent expenditure of funds and battling corruption, his expertise and personality do not match the previous presidential envoys to the region in dealing with the deeply rooted tensions and conflicts between various ethnic groups and clans, as well as extremism in the North Caucasus.
As envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Khloponin will face a Herculean managerial task that is split between three levels: at the top, navigating between Putin, Medvedev, federal ministers and the Kremlin; at the bottom, handling the tricky relations with North Caucasus leaders; and in the middle, trying to bring his own team aboard. I am afraid that the interests of the various influential groups in both Moscow and the region are too much at odds — or in outright conflict — for Khloponin to cope with them effectively, no matter how much independent authority and power he is given.