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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Murder in Adygeya: Are the Kremlin's Fingerprints on the Gun?

Reader Jeremy Putley points out that the Jamestown Foundation's Andrei Smirnov reports in Volume 3, Issue 182 of the Eurasia Daily Monitor newsletter as follows:


During the evening of September 25, Murat Kudaev, head of the Krasnogvardeisk district of Adygeya, a republic in the North Caucasus, was returning home after a meeting of the Adygei government in Maykop, the local capital. When Kudaev approached Adamy, his native village in Krasnogvardeisk district, a police patrol pulled him over to check his identification papers. A uniformed man examined Kudaev’s driver’s license and suddenly pumped two gunshots into Kudaev’s chest and a third into his head. Kudaev died instantly, and the assailants fled in a fake squad car.

Witnesses who glimpsed the killers’ license plate gave the number to investigators from the Adygei Prosecutor’s Office, which reports directly to Moscow and is independent of the local government. However, investigators reacted strangely. The tag -- 4406 23 -- belongs to Krasnodar krai, the region surrounding Adygei territory. Aslan Shuzzo, a Regnum news agency correspondent in Adygeya, told Jamestown that instead of thanking the witnesses, the officials from the prosecutor’s office called them “insane.” Sergei Zhinzharov, head of the investigation sector of the Adygei procuracy, said that no car had been assigned that particular number. According to Shuzzo, the prosecutor’s office insisted that Kudaev’s killers had three cars, not one, and that a search for those cars was underway in Krasnodar krai. Also, the Adygei Interior Ministry refused to admit that the killers had been dressed in police uniforms, and its spokesman said that there were no real witnesses to the assassination (
Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 27).

Security officials suggested economic motives were behind Kudaev’s murder. Vasily Guk, the Adygei prosecutor’s office press secretary, said that the investigation was focusing on only one scenario: “murder due to his activities as a government official.” Guk theorized that Kudaev had made enemies with his order to stop mining of the sandy gravel in the Laba and Kuban Rivers because of the resulting environmental damage (Kommersant, September 27).

However, some members of the Adygei government, including Minister of Agriculture Shrakhmet Skhalakho and Minister of Economic Development Vadim Zinukhin, as well as Kudaev’s friends adamantly denied that economic motives were behind his assassination. “There is no doubt that this murder has a political character," insisted Anatoly Osokin, a deputy of the Adygei parliament (Regnum, September 26; Kommersant, September 27).

Kudaev was the principal protégé of Adygei president Khasret Sovmen and the leading candidate to succeed Sovmen when his term expires in February 2007). Moreover, Kudaev was very popular within the republic; under his leadership Krasnogvardeisk district became one of the most developed and prosperous areas of the republic. Sovmen had always held up Kudaev as an example of a good manager. Last April, during the standoff between Sovmen and the Kremlin, Sovmen named Kudaev his successor (see EDM, April 6).

Kudaev was killed just ten days before Dmitry Kozak, Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District, was scheduled to come to Adygei to discuss possible candidates for the republican presidency with the local political elite and civic organizations. Both Sovmen and the local parliament could support Kudaev. The parties and organizations that advocate the unification of Adygeya with Krasnodar krai (see EDM, April 29), including the Union of the Slavs of Adygeya and the Party of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs, could not object to Kudaev either, because of his established reputation as a successful manager. (Advocates of unification cite Adygeya’s economic problems as justification.)

Undoubtedly, both leaders of civic organizations and parliamentary deputies, especially members of the Adygei branch of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, whose members are still loyal to Sovmen, would have nominated Kudaev as the new Adygei president if he had not been killed. However, neither the Kremlin nor Kozak would dare trust a popular candidate nominated by the maverick Sovmen, because it would violate the vertical power principles of Putin and Kozak. A quick survey of the new North Caucasus leaders appointed by Putin this year reveals a string of weak, unpopular puppets totally controlled by Moscow, like Mukhu Aliev in Dagestan, Murat Zyazikov in Ingushetia, or Arsen Kanokov in Kabardino-Balkaria. The likely Kremlin candidate for Adygeya is Ruslan Khadzhibiekov, chairman of the local parliament. The Russian authorities are confident that Khadzhibiekov would accept any changes in Kremlin policy towards Adygeya, and he would never obstruct the republic’s absorption by Krasnodar krai if Moscow ever makes the final decision on this issue.

Despite the prevailing opinion in Adygeya, Kozak’s entourage is unlikely to discover any political motives in Kudaev’s case. A source in Kozak's apparatus told Kommersant, “According to preliminary data there is no political background to the District Chief’s assassination.” The same source also told Kommersant, “We will not accept any candidate nominated by Sovmen.”

Yesterday, October 2, Kozak visited Maykop to discuss the possible candidates. According to Jamestown sources in the republic, most civic leaders back another term for Sovmen, but these demands are likely to be ignored by Moscow. Russian media sources reported that among the seven candidates mentioned at the meeting, Aslan Tkhakushinov, president of the Adygei Institute of Technology, and Ruslan Khadzhibiekov, who was proposed by United Russia were the only genuine contenders. After the meeting Kozak said that the Russian president would consider all the candidates’ credentials, but Putin seems to have already made up his mind for Khadzhibiekov.

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