Wikileaks cable: Mostly Quiet in the Western Caucasus
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MOSCOW3754 2008-12-29 13:38 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Moscow
DE RUEHMO #3754/01 3641338
R 291338Z DEC 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

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 &Greater 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, &the Russians.8

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 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 &world view8 and had not yet received enough education to be able to formulate views on this subject.

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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 Maksimova.

Claims of Cronyism Begin to Mar Kanokov's Shiny Start
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6.  (SBU) Kabardino-Balkaria's president Arsen Kanokov, 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 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 &his 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.

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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 &engines8 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 governments.

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 &first 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 &get 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.


Source: Wikileaks

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