Our Man in Dagestan

ourmanindagestan.jpgSo what is the worst job in the world right now?  Chinese judge?  Investor in Venezuela?  Coach of the Oakland Raiders?

Those are all pretty bad gigs, but Dmitry Medvedev has just created something even worse:  a Kremlin envoy to a newly created Federal District containing the heavily Muslim war zones of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia, the areas of the greatest violence, civil unrest, and political assassinations in all of the Russian Federation.

Things haven’t been going so well for Moscow’s appointees to these regions.  In Ingushetia, for example, local leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov barely survived a car bombing assassination attempt last June (and this was the “good guy”; Medvedev had to fire his predecessor Murat Zyazikov after a few too many disappearances).  The heavy-handed Dagestani President Mukhu Aliyev may be replaced as his term runs out this year – only a few weeks ago a suicide bomber drove more than 100kg of TNT into a police station, killing seven cops and injuring scores of others.  The famous Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov really went out on a tear last year, getting blamed for dozens of murders, including the human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.  The list goes on and on.

With the situation totally out of control, and no coherent securitystrategy for the region beyond the ineffective “kill the bandits”approach, it is not an enviable position to be appointed to as anenvoy.  That said, President Medvedev has selected a most impressiveindividual for the job, Governor of Krasnoyarsk Alexander Khloponin,who is untainted by any past in the FSB or history of ties to the clansin the region.  The new “viceroy” will have expanded authority to crackdown on corrupt local officials, and was also promoted to Deputy PrimeMinister.

One can only wish Khloponin the best of luck with this difficult, ifnot impossible, job, and congratulate President Medvedev on appointingan outsider with a solid record of fair management (Alexander Cherkasovof Memorial describes Khloponin as “someone with a different logic than the siloviki.“)  Vladimir Pribylovsky of Panorama Center told RFE/RLthat Khloponin was one of only 10 governors in all of Russia with adistinguished and proven track record, free from corruption allegations.

Anything would be an improvement upon his predecessor Vladimir Ustinov,the former prosecutor general whose most famous work was the fraudulentframe up case which led to the seizure of Yukos and imprisonment ofMikhail Khodorkovsky.  Ustinov will now only be responsible for theSouthern republics of the newly separated federal district.

Thebar may be set low, and there is no where to go but up … but we haveheard that before.  If Medvedev is successful in proving that a newanti-corruption and accountability approach to the North Caucasus ismore effective than the military build up, filtration camps, tortureand disappearances, big changes could be underway for other areas ofRussia’s domestic policy.  Let’s hope the spoilers don’t bring thesiloviki back.