Staunton, July 22 – The situation in Stavropol kray is rapidly deteriorating into a Russian version of Kosovo, forcing Moscow to think about replacing a governor it appointed there only a little more than a year ago, and prompting some to say that the changes ahead in that kray will require even larger policy shifts with regard to the North Caucasus as a whole.
In an essay on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal on Friday, Aleksey Polubota says that an article in “Vedomosti” last Tuesday (vedomosti.ru/politics/news/14209751/gubernator-nezasidelsya) suggest that the kray’s governor Valery Zerenkov is on the way out because he has failed “to put it mildly” to improve the situation there (svpressa.ru/politic/article/71245/).
Valery Solovey, head of the New Force Party, argues that Zerenkov’s replacement is “practically inevitable,” but replacing him will do little to solve the problems of Stavropol unless Moscow changes its approach to the North Caucasus, something that is beyond the ability of Stavropol and may be beyond the ability of Moscow as well.
Nonetheless, the center has to do something, Solovey continues, and changing governors is something it can do. Whether it will achieve more depends “on how far the Kremlin is ready to go to restore order” there and elsewhere in the region.
Anton Chablin, a Stavropol journalist, suggests that Zerenkov has failed because he has not reached out to the population. A man of Soviet habits, “it is difficult for him to understand that one must not only engage in PR on government controlled newspapers and television but to work with bloggers and the electronic media.”
That means, he says, that when anything happens be it the rumored construction of a mosque or ethnic clashes, Zerenkov and those like him quickly lose control of the situation to those on the Internet and never are able to catch up. He estimates that there is a 70 percent probability that the current governor will leave his post before the end of the year.
Finally, Dmitry Zhuravlyev, the director of the Moscow Institute of Regional Problems, suggests that the situation in Stavropol is not as bad as others are suggesting and that unlike his colleagues, he thinks a new governor will come from out of the local elite because Stavropol residents don’t like outsiders in office or in the streets.
And he stresses that Zerenkov should not be blamed for what are larger tectonic shifts. Ethnic conflicts in that region reflect the fact that “earlier ethnic Russian villagers resettled in Russian cities, but now these are [people from the North Caucasus],” from “auls where in many families there are eight or nine children and there is massive unemployment.” That they seek work in Stavropol is not the governor’s fault.