Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Russia names Khloponin as new Caucasus supremo

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with his new envoy to the North Caucasus Alexander Khloponin
Medvedev wants Khloponin (right) to tackle poverty

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has appointed a new special envoy to the North Caucasus, which remains racked by Islamist and separatist violence.

Alexander Khloponin will be given the specific task of promoting economic development in the impoverished region.

Mr Khloponin is not from the Caucasus, but is a former governor in Siberia.

Rebellions against Russian rule led by Muslim militants have stepped up over the past two years, particularly in Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Mr Medvedev has already singled out growing violence in the North Caucasus as one of the most pressing problems Russia faces.

He says ending the acute poverty in the region is vital for restoring stability.

Security role

"You have achieved a lot, above all in social and economic projects, and it is this that is in extreme need in the North Caucasus," Mr Medvedev told Mr Khloponin.

The former businessman will be responsible for the newly created North Caucasus federal district, which includes Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, as well as four other regions: Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia and Stavropol.

The Kremlin says one of his top priorities will be to build up the local economies and create new jobs.

And according to top officials, Mr Khloponin will also be expected to co-ordinate the security forces and defend the rights of the local population.

Experts say many young men in the region have joined a hard core of Muslim militants to fight for independence as a result of poverty and widespread abuses by the security forces, including kidnappings and torture.

Power issues

But a key question is whether he will be able to work alongside powerful local leaders such as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

Mr Kadyrov, who became president three years ago, has the personal backing of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Under his often brutal rule, the violence in Chechnya has decreased although there are still some skirmishes and bomb attacks.

He is used to running Chechnya as he sees fit and has even sought to extend his influence into the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia.

As a ruler used to wielding absolute power, it is hard to see how he will accept any interference from outside, in particular on the issue of the behaviour of his security forces and the treatment of the population.

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