The Kremlin accepted the resignation of Kabardino-Balkaria’s chief, Arsen Kanokov, on Friday. A short announcement posted on the President’s website simply stated that Arsen Kanokov had resigned and was being replaced by Yuri Kokov, the former chief of the Interior Ministry’s anti-extremism branch, Department E.
There had been rumours for at least the last 18 months that Kokov wanted Kanokov’s job. A series of arrests in June 2012 of local officials seemed aimed at Kanokov’s relatives and allies. Kokov’s name popped up then as a possible rival to Kanokov, though nothing seemed to come of it. Then six months ago, an ally of Kanokov’s was gunned down in Moscow. His murder was never solved.
A later announcement on the Kremlin’s website showed a photo of Putin meeting with Kokov to discuss the acting chief’s new job. At one point, Putin noted that Kanokov had done a lot for the republic, saying:
Many problems still remain, but on the whole, the dynamic is positive. This applies to the budgetary provision and concerns the development of infrastructure. But, I repeat, the unresolved problems are, of course, much more.
Given Putin’s words and phrasing, it seems likely that Kanokov was relieved of his duties because of the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi. Tensions remain high in the region of the North Caucasus and fears of a terror attack during the Olympics are very real. Yuri Kokov’s appointment speaks to the fears associated with the upcoming event. As former chief of Department E, his experience in fighting extremism likely provides a feeling of security for the federal authorities. Russia has spent close to $51 billion (if not more) in the Olympic games, and Putin has a lot riding on its successful outcome.
Kanokov fought the terrorist threat in his republic as best he could, but his efforts were not acceptable by the Kremlin’s standards. In replacing Kanokov with a security expert, the Kremlin is again attempting to replicate the model of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya. However, that model is not effective. Putin has already tried this in Daghestan this year with disastrous results. The strong leader role that the Kremlin has assigned to Abdulitipov has only turned Daghestan into a war zone, with daily shootouts and bombings. Even the Kremlin’s gold standard — Ramzan Kadyrov — does not fully control Chechnya, though most of the information about acts of terrorism in that republic are hushed.
The terrorist threat to the Sochi Olympic games remains very real, but with less than 100 days remaining to the event, it seems unlikely that replacing Kanovkov will have any real impact.