Cablegate: Mostly Quiet in the Western North Caucasus

Published: Mon 29 Dec 2008 01:38 PM
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1. (SBU) Summary: The North Caucasus republics of
Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia have largely been
spared the violence and instability of their eastern
neighbors North Ossetia, Ingushetiya, Chechnya and Dagestan.
In view of the sustained improvement in the security
situation there, on December 1 the United Nations Department
of Safety and Security based in Vladikavkaz upgraded both
republics (with the exception of the Elbrus region in
Kabardino-Balkaria) to two on its scale of risk, with five
being the highest. Political tensions remain: calls for the
creation of a "Greater Circassia" continue to serve as a
lightning rod. Former Constitutional Court justice Boris
Ebzeyev, Medvedev's choice in July 2008 to replace Mustafa
Batdiyev as president of Karachay-Cherkessia has upset the
republic's minority Cherkess population with a policy
opposing ethnic quotas in government service. Likewise,
Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov's popularity has
begun to suffer due to perceived cronyism. Local elections
scheduled in both republics for March 2009 will show just how
dedicated their political establishments are to democratic
principles. End Summary.
More Secure, but Ethnic Tensions Persist
2. (SBU) During a December 16-20 trip to the North Caucasus,
Poloff visited the small, ethnically diverse republics of
Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia. While both
regions have been spared the violence of neighboring North
Caucasus republics (and were upgraded to 2 out of a 5 point
security scale by the UN), ethnic tensions remain. Both
republics have a dominant majority or plurality ethnic group
related to a minority ethnic group of the other (Kabardins
are Circassian, as are the Cherkess; Karachay are Altaic
Turks, as are the Balkars) and sizable Russian or
Russian-speaking minorities. While most were reluctant to
provide exact figures for the different ethnic groups, they
agreed that over 60 percent of Kabardino-Balkaria's almost
900,000 inhabitants are Karbardins, 25 percent are Russian,
and only 15 percent are Balkars. Mukhamed Cherkesov, head of
the Cherkessk-office of Adygea Khasa, a human rights
organization trying to protect the rights of ethnic
Circassians in the region, said that only 38 percent of
Karachay-Cherkessia's nearly 430,000 population are ethnic
Karachay, 33 percent are Russians, 11 percent are Cherkess,
seven percent are from an ethnic Abkhaz group referred to as
the Abazin, and the remaining five percent are ethnic Nogay
also found in Chechnya and Dagestan.
"Greater Circassia": A Hardy Perennial
3. (SBU) Perhaps prompted by the December 2004 proposal by
the governor of neighboring Krasnodar Kray to absorb the
northern Caucasus republic of Adygea (where ethnic
Circassians make up only 25 percent of the population and
Russians or Cossacks an overwhelming 75 percent), ethnic
Circassians in the region (most of whom prefer to identify as
Adygeans) have renewed their proposal for the creation of a
new North Caucasus republic uniting into a
Circassia8 the republics of Aydegea, Karachay-Cherkessia,
Kabardino-Balkaria, and even parts of North Ossetia,
Krasnodar Kray and Stavropol Kray where ethnic Circassians
live. They repeated this proposal most recently at a
November 23 conference in Cherkessk attended by an estimated
1,000 participants. Proponents of the plan stated that it
would be better to solve the social-economic problems of the
region as one larger republic than three small republics.
Timur Zhuzhuev, a representative of the youth movement of the
Adygea Khasa, the civil society group that proposed the
creation of a unitary republic, said that a united republic
was needed to guarantee the equal rights of all citizens,
especially the fair distribution of government jobs at all
levels. When asked which ethnic group would dominate such a
united republic, Adygea Khasa's Cherkesov responded,
4. (SBU) Not all organizations that make up the Circassian
diaspora and civil society groups support this proposal.
While the Adygea office of Adygea Khasa supports the call for
a united republic, the Kabardino-Balkaria office of Adygea
Khasa has stated publicly that it does not, preferring the
status quo of three separate republics within the Russian
Federation. Even the proposal's staunchest supporters,
including Cherkesov and Valeriy Khatazhukov, a human rights
activist from Kabardino-Balkaria, admitted that this proposal
will probably go nowhere. Both, however, expressed concern
about the fate of their cousins in Adygea if the proposal by
the governor of Krasnodar Kray gains traction in Moscow.
While officials from Kabardino-Balkaria did not seem worried
about the proposal, the head of the Committee for
Nationalities, Mass Communication and Publishing in
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Karachay-Cherkessia, Rashid Kantserov (an ethnic Karachay),
expressed concern that the proposal repeated at the November
23 conference came from the Adygea Khaza's youth movement.
He told the Caucasian Knot internet information portal that
young people still do not have a sufficient view8
and had not yet received enough education to be able to
formulate views on this subject.
Ethnic Quotas in Karachay-Cherkessia
5. (SBU) According to Kantserov, a vocal minority of ethnic
Cherkess have opposed changes proposed by President Ebzeyev
in the republic's top jobs. After replacing ethnic Cherkess
Alinka Kardanov as prime minister with ethnic Greek Vladimir
Kaishev, Ebzeyev also nominated ethnic Russian Sergey
Smorodin to be the first deputy prime minister and proposed
Zurab Dokshokov, an ethnic Cherkess, to be the new speaker of
the parliament. When some members of the Cherkess community
complained that they had been promised the newly vacant
speaker seat, Ebseyev reportedly replied that they could
nominate their own candidate and that the dominant ethnic
Karachay and Russian members of the parliament would then
decide. This discussion has set off a debate on ethnic
quotas in the republic, with Ebseyev's office claiming that
there are no quotas for employment in his administration and
groups like Adygea Khasa demanding adequate representation
for ethnic Cherkess at all levels of government. The
republic's two representatives in the Russian State Duma are
ethnic Karachay Akhmat Erkenov and ethnic Russian Natalya
Claims of Cronyism Begin to Mar Kanokov's Shiny Start
--------------------------------------------- --------
6. (SBU) Kabardino-Balkaria's president Arsen Kanokov,
appointed by then President Putin in 2005 to succeed Valeriy
Kokov, remains on the defensive after putting down a home
grown radical Muslim insurgency at the outset of his tenure.
(On October 13, 2005, early on in Kanokov's tenure, a group
of 157 Islamic extremists attacked 13 different law
enforcement buildings, including the Ministry of Internal
Affairs and FSB buildings in the center of Nalchik. During
the subsequent gunfight, 92 insurgents, 35 policemen and 14
civilians died. Fifty-eight men are currently on trial in
Nalchik on charges of terrorism). According to Ivan Sukhov,
Vremya Novostey's Caucasus correspondent, Kanokov acquired
the reputation of a good crisis manager who had to regulate
social relations among the republic's three main ethnic
groups (Kabardins, Russians and Balkars) as well as clean out
corrupt officials installed by his predecessor.
7. (SBU) The government is still coming to terms with the
attack and the predominantly home-grown Islamic insurgency
that carried it out. On December 12 the republic's Supreme
Court refused to remove the trial to a different region.
Igor Tsagoyev, deputy editor-in-chief of the independent
regional "North Caucasus" who lost a colleague during the
gunfight, agreed that there are few in Nalchik who were not
touched by the incident, but hewed closely to the official
line that moving the trial to another location, even to
nearby Stavropol Kray, would be too expensive. Remnants of
the group that carried out the attack are still active in the
area around Mount Elbrus, and a quick review of the wanted
list of suspected terrorists at the nearby Mineralniye Vodiy
airport revealed that half are from Kabardino-Balkaria and
half of them are from the area around Mount Elbrus.
8. (SBU) Kanokov has attempted to make amends to the
Islamic community. According to Anas Pshikhachev, the chief
mufti of Kabardino-Balkaria, since the October 2005 attack on
government buildings by Muslim extremists, the republic's
government has supported the construction of mosques in every
village that wanted one, although Pshikhachev was quick to
point out that the costs of construction in all cases were
covered locally by private donations. The number of new
mosques has declined, however, and only seven were built in
all of 2008. The muftiate's office is located at Nalchik's
largest mosque, competed in 2004, which can accommodate 2,000
worshippers. A total of 323 pilgrims from the republic
participated in this year's hajj. One year ago the North
Caucasus Islamic Institute in Nalchik acquired university
status, although it is still waiting for a license from the
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology so that it can
issue university degrees and provide a deferment from
military service. Russia's newest Islamic university,
located in cramped quarters not far from the city's largest
mosque, only has 70 students ) 25 of whom are women.
9. (SBU) Tsagoyev and Valeriy Khatazhukov, a human rights
activist affiliated with Moscow-based Lev Ponomarev, agreed
that despite his background in business, Kanokov has not done
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enough to improve the economic situation in
Kabardino-Balkaria. Neither could point to any new industry
created during his presidency. Both complained that Kanokov
has filled government vacancies with own people.8
Kanokov has avoided the quota issue being debated next door
in Karachay-Cherkessia because, at 60 percent of the
population, ethnic Kabardins are the clear majority, and
through an informal agreement, the job of Speaker of the
Parliament is reserved for an ethnic Balkar.
Both Republics Prepare for Upcoming Local Elections
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10. (SBU) On March 1, 2009, both Kabardino-Balkaria and
Karachay-Cherkessia will hold regional elections. Under the
current election law adopted on August 5, 2008, the March
2009 election will be conducted under a party-list system and
the number of deputies has been reduced from 110 to 72.
(Note: Despite this reduction in the number of mandates,
parties can include up to 120 candidates on their party list,
leaving wide open the chance that will be
included on the list to attract voters. According to
Caucasian Knot, Kanokov heads United Russia's list, followed
by current parliament speaker Ilyaz Bechelov and Yuriy
Krasnozhan, the popular coach of Nalchik's Spartak football
club. Presumably, of the three, only Bechelov will be
interested in serving in the local parliament. End Note).
In order to gain at least one seat, a party must pass a seven
percent threshold. In the last local election in
Kabardino-Balkaria in December 2003, United Russia received
71.42 percent of the vote, the KPRF received 8.69 percent and
the Agrarian Party recently aligned with United Russia)
received 8.56 percent. Election Commission head Andrey
Tupikin told us December 17 that although 14 parties were
registered with the Commission, only five (United Russia, the
KPRF, Zhironovskiy's Liberal Democratic Party, Just Russia
and the Patriots, Party had said they would participate. He
pointed out, however, that the deadline for parties to
register is December 28. According to Caucasian Knot, on
December 13 the regional branches of SPS, Civic Force, the
Democratic Party of Russia and the public group Business
Russia held an organizational meeting to form a branch of the
new Right Cause Party.
11. (SBU) In Karachay-Cherkessia the March 2009 local
elections will be conducted using the mixed system of
single-mandates and party lists prevalent in Russia before
Vladimir Putin became president. The local parliament has
not written a new election code, and the law enacted June 12,
2006, is still in force. According to Mehti Baitokov, the
republic's young, new head of the Election Commission, 36 of
the 73 deputies will be elected from single mandates and 37
from party lists. In the last election held on March 14,
2004, United Russia won 24 single mandate seats, the KPRF won
7, and LDPR and the True Patriots both won 3. In addition,
United Russia won 55.69 percent of the unitary (party-list)
vote, the KPRF 15.57 percent, the True Patriots 6.99 percent
and the LDPR 6.91 percent. There is also a seven percent
threshold parties must pass in order to receive seats from
party list voting. As in national elections in Russia,
parties that receive less than three percent of the vote are
required to pay for any free airtime or other public support
they receive.
12. (SBU) The 324 members of local election commissions
were chosen in early December, and in addition to an
overwhelming number of representatives from United Russia
(190), they also include 36 from the KPRF and 19 from the
liberal Yabloko Party. These local election commissions had
their first organizational meeting on December 20. The
deadline for registering candidates and candidate lists is
the first week of January. Baitokov, who only took over as
head of the republic's election commission in July after
serving several years as head of its technical and
communications department, expects a large turnout of around
80 percent (up from the normal 60 percent turnout in national
elections) because in addition to voting for deputies to the
republic assembly, voters will also elect their local
13. (SBU) Mukhamed Cherkesov from Adygea Khasa told us that
ethnic Cherkessk are members of various parties and will
appear on several party lists. He added that, in addition to
these party list candidates, there will be individual
candidates for 15 of the 36 single-mandate constituencies.
He hoped that since the single-mandate constituencies are
contested on a past the post8 basis, ethnic Cherkess
would have a real chance of being elected if the other ethnic
groups split their votes over several candidates. His
organization will do what it can to make sure ethnic
Cherkessk out the vote8 and will try to enlist several
successful Cherkessk businessmen to help.
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14. (SBU) Despite having been spared the violence and
instability prevalent in the rest of the North Caucasus,
Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia have their own
problems based on their ethnic diversity that their
presidents must continue to juggle and local opposition can
continue to exploit.
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