Russian envoy vows to solve Caucasus problems

The Kremlin’s newly appointed North Caucasus envoy on Wednesday said he was confident he could solve the problems of Russia’s most violent region despite his status as an outsider with no law enforcement experience.

President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday bypassed the country’s powerful law enforcement lobby to appoint former businessman Alexander Khloponin to oversee the country’s most volatile region, which is the centre of a growing Islamist insurgency.

Analysts said Khloponin faced daunting challenges, but that if the gamble paid off, Medvedev could gain significant political credit.

“I see no unsolvable problems here,” Alexander Khloponin said on Wednesday after meeting regional leaders on his first day at work. He said he would soon draft a wide-ranging plan to tackle the region’s biggest problems.

“The tasks ahead are serious. I have an understanding of the first steps,” he said.

Medvedev on Tuesday announced he was grouping the most violent provinces together in a new federal district, the Kremlin chief’s most significant policy initiative on the North Caucasus since coming to power in May 2008.

He then announced he would appoint Khloponin, a former executive with miner Norilsk Nickel, who made his political name as governor of the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, as his envoy.

Medvedev has called the growing violence on Russia’s southern flank its biggest domestic political problem and in his state of the nation last year he made clear that he saw the region’s economic backwardness as a key cause of the violence.

In a televised meeting, Medvedev told Khloponin it was his economic skills that were needed in the region.

“The president has tasked Khloponin with developing the region socially and economically, creating new enterprises and jobs, and coordinating the work of the law enforcement agencies,” Medvedev’s chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin said, local media reported.

The Kremlin has poured significant military resources into the North Caucasus to try to calm the situation in recent years. But the number of shootings and bomb attacks against police and officials has grown steadily in the past two years.

In June last year Ingushetia leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was almost killed in a suicide bomb attack on his car.

Medvedev has made clear that the approach of fighting violence with increased force from the state is not working, analysts said.

“It shows the Kremlin is thinking of new approaches. That it is seriously concerned after several years of neglect,” said Maria Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Centre in Moscow.

“It’s not just a new person, but a new office and a new style of leader.”

In addition to Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, the main focus of rebel violence, Khloponin will represent Medvedev’s interests in the less volatile regions of Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, North Ossetia and the Stavropol Region.

While Khloponin will answer to Medvedev as his envoy to the North Caucasus District, he will also be a member of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Cabinet as a deputy prime minister, an unusual combination of posts that requires a new law.

But Medvedev has made clear the appointment, and the new approach that it represents, is his and he will take the credit if it succeeds, analysts said.

“If jobs appear and the situation calms it would be a huge political win for Medvedev,” said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst from the Centre for Political Technologies, a Moscow think tank.

But Khloponin faces serious challenges in balancing the interests of a complex web of clans and ethnic groups and it is not clear if he has the necessary authority to control powerful local leaders like Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

“The move is risky and extravagant,” said Alexei Mukhin, an analyst at the Centre for Political Information. “In the Caucasus people are not quick to forgive mistakes.”

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