Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 02/2009

North Caucasus Weekly - Volume X, Issue 2

January 2009

North Caucasus Weekly (formerly Chechnya Weekly), The Jamestown Foundation


* Chechen Who Accused Kadyrov of Torture Murdered in Vienna
* Kadyrov Denounces Parole for Budanov
* Human Rights Watch’s Annual Report Details North Caucasus Abuses
* Explosion Destroys Building in Nazran; Cause Uncertain
* North Caucasus Insurgency Attracting Mainly Young and Committed Members
By Mairbek Vatchagaev
* Is Krymshamkhalov's Murder a Political Assassination?
By Fatima Tlisova

Chechen Who Accused Kadyrov of Torture Murdered in Vienna

A 27-year-old Chechen was shot to death in Vienna, Austria on January 13. The victim was identified as Umar Israilov, and Agence France-Presse on January 14 quoted the Austrian newspaper Kurier as reporting that he was shot to death by two gunmen. AFP reported that Austrian police had arrested a suspect in the killing-a Chechen identified only as Otto K.-who denied involvement in the shooting but told authorities that Israilov had worked as part of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's security team and "deserved" to die for having abandoned the pro-Russian Chechen camp. According to the French news agency, a Russian source cited by Kurier said that Israilov had been close to Chechen warlord Movsar Barayev, one of the Chechen gunmen involved in the Dubrovka theater siege in Moscow in October 2002.

New York Times correspondent C. J. Chivers wrote in the newspaper on January 14 that according to a family friend of Israilov, he was ambushed at lunchtime on January 13 near his Vienna apartment as he left a grocery store by "at least four men in two cars" who were waiting for him and then shot him as he tried to run away. The family friend asked that his name be withheld "out of fear for his own safety."

According to Chivers, Israilov had been detained as a separatist rebel, was given amnesty and briefly served as a bodyguard to Kadyrov but later fled Chechnya for Europe and filed a complaint against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights in late 2006. The complaint to the France-based Strasbourg Court detailed alleged "systematic use of abductions and torture" by Kadyrov and his security forces to punish suspected insurgents and their families in 2003-2005-the period during which Kadyrov became Chechnya's prime minister.

Chivers reported that in an interview with the New York Times last fall, Israilov described several of the allegations he had made to the Strasbourg court, including the beating and kicking of detainees by Kadyrov and his fighters, the rape of a detainee by one of Kadyrov's subordinates and Kadyrov's use of a hand-cranked device that delivered electric shocks to prisoners. Israilov claimed Kadyrov himself had used the electrical device on him. Citing "both victims and a human rights worker who investigated the case," Chivers reported that after Israilov fled Chechnya, his father was abducted, tortured and held illegally by Kadyrov for more than 10 months "in an effort to force the son to return home."

Nadja Lorenz, Israilov's lawyer in Vienna, told the New York Times that she had recently sought protection for Israilov from the Austrian authorities, but that the request had been denied.

None of Israilov's allegations against Kadyrov was reported by the New York Times prior to the article published on January 14.

In an article published in the New York Times on January 15, Chivers quoted a spokesman for the Austrian public prosecutor's office as saying that police were holding a suspect in Israilov's murder. The spokesman described the suspect as a Chechen who had been granted asylum and had lived in Austria for years, but refused to name him.

Chivers also reported on January 15 that Israilov had been pressed by a Kadyrov "emissary" to withdraw the human rights complaint against the Chechen leader he had made both to Russian prosecutors and to the European Court of Human Rights. According to the New York Times correspondent, an Austrian police record provided to the newspaper by a friend of Israilov included the statement given last year to Austria's Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Action against Terrorism by a 41-year-old Chechen, identified as Artur Kurmakayev of St. Petersburg. Kurmakayev said he had been sent to Vienna by Kadyrov to bring Israilov home, "by the use of force if necessary." Chivers reported that Kurmakayev told investigators on June 10 that he worked for a "secretive department" under Kadyrov charged with repatriating Chechens in exile, and that for his assignment in Vienna he had been provided two assistants from Kadyrov's presidential guard whom he met in Slovakia.

Kurmakayev told the Austrian counter-terrorism authorities that he had seen a list at Kadyrov's residence in the Chechen town of Gudermes of approximately 5,000 names of Chechens who had either fought against Kadyrov or "have otherwise attracted unfavorable attention," and that 300 of those on the lists "have to die," including about 50 Chechens living in Austria. Kurmakayev said he wanted to seek asylum in Austria, adding that if he did not "properly" fulfill his "assignment," then his family "could die." Yet, according to a lawyer who had represented Israilov, Kurmakayev later returned to Russia voluntarily and his whereabouts are unknown.

According to Chivers, a separate Austrian police record quotes Israilov as saying that Kurmakayev, using the name Arbi, had asked him in mid-2008 to withdraw his case against Kadyrov. Israilov said that when he refused, Kurmakayev told him that "two people in Slovakia were waiting for me and were set on killing me" and that he should "think twice about it."

Chivers quoted a spokesman for Kadyrov as saying he was unaware of Israilov and his case and that the Chechen president's office would review the allegations before making any statement.

The Moscow Times on January 15 quoted Timur Aliev, an adviser to Kadyrov and a former journalist who covered the two Chechen wars extensively, as saying by telephone from Grozny that he had never heard of Israilov and expressed doubt that the murder could be an act of revenge by the Chechen leadership. "There are other Chechens, more important, known and influential, who file complaints against Russia in Europe and criticize Kadyrov, but they still walk around safe and sound," Aliev told the English-language newspaper.

The Moscow Times also quoted the press office for the European Court of Human Rights as saying that it had received an initial complaint from an Umar Israilov in November 2006 but that it could not confirm that it was from the man slain in Vienna. The court received no follow-up information from the plaintiff following the initial appeal, therefore the complaint was expunged from the court's records, the court's press office told the English-language newspaper. For that reason, the court said it could not provide details of the complaint or further information about the identity of the plaintiff.

An article published in the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung on January 14 quoted Israilov's 28-year-old wife as saying she now fears for her life and for the life of her children.

Kadyrov Denounces Parole for Budanov

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov declared on January 13 that he categorically opposes the decision to grant parole to Yuri Budanov, the Russian colonel who was convicted in 2003 of murdering an 18-year-old Chechen woman, Elza Kungaeva, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. A Russian court ruled on December 24 that Budanov should be released after serving eight years and six months of his ten-year sentence (North Caucasus Weekly, January 9).

"I do not believe in the repentance of a person who has committed such a crime," quoted Kadyrov as telling journalists in Grozny. "Even if he repented, a person convicted of such an insolent and cynical murder of a completely innocent underage school girl should not qualify for parole. Besides, he deserves a harsher punishment."

Kadyrov accused prosecutors and the Ulyanovsk Oblast Court, which handed down the decision to parole Budanov, of "double standards," reported. "Yuri Budanov-a murderer and rapist-has, in fact been acquitted," he said. "At the same time, hundreds of Chechens convicted at the starting phase of the counter-terrorist operation on the basis far-fetched suspicions or for insignificant crimes-and some of them were not guilty of anything-were sentenced to 10-15 years. Even people such as these have been granted parole only in isolated cases."

According to, Kadyrov expressed the hope that the courts would overturn the decision to grant Budanov parole. "In a law-based state all must be equal before the law, otherwise the authority of the government is undermined and this gives rise to citizens' distrust of the judicial system in general," he said, adding that he "fully understands the indignation of citizens aroused by the freeing of Budanov." By "playing up to a narrow circle of xenophobes and pseudo-patriots, the court is exceeding its own authority," Kadyrov said, adding that the court had turned "its own authority into empty words."

"In the person of Budanov, all war criminals are acquitted,' Kadyrov said. He then cited the case of Sulim Yamadaev, the former head of the now-dissolved Chechen-manned Vostok battalion of the Russian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), behind who, he said, there also extends "a whole trail of grave and insidious crimes, however he still remains free." Kadyrov added: "Punishment for crimes must be unavoidable regardless of the rank, regalia and shoulder boards of the criminal."

It is worth noting that these comments by Kadyrov were his first on the decision to grant parole to Budanov, despite the fact that there were several large demonstrations in Chechnya against the verdict almost immediately after it was handed down and that it was denounced by Nurdi Nukhazhiev, Chechnya's human rights ombudsman. Nukhazhiev's office also reported it had collected statements from eyewitnesses claiming that Budanov was involved in the murder of other Chechens (North Caucasus Weekly, January 9).

Kadyrov last week also issued his latest claim of victory over Chechnya's rebels, telling the republic's government on January 12 that "illegal armed formations" in Chechnya have been "practically destroyed," Interfax reported. According to the news agency, Kadyrov said that "certain militants" are still hiding from the police and are seeking to "recruit young and naïve boys" in order to create "an illusion of their presence." Kadyrov said his government had learned several days earlier that a number of young boys were considering joining the rebels in the mountains and had gathered the youths together and handed them over to families following "appropriate explanatory work." He added that the "weak and inept education" of young people, both inside families and in society at large, was the cause of "moral and psychological instability" in "certain young people."

Still, Kadyrov claimed that the situation in Chechnya on the whole is "stable" and that "a dozen militants have no influence on it." The police have enough firepower to "neutralize any gang," he added. "The problem is that Dokka Umarov and some of his people are hiding somewhere," he said, referring to the Chechen rebel leader. "They will be seized or killed if they resist arrest." Kadyrov ordered his government "to educate the young and tell them what Umarov and the like are and what troubles they have inflicted on the Chechen people."

Meanwhile, an article published in the Financial Times on January 12 focused in part on Kadyrov's efforts to, as the newspaper put it, "promote a more Islamic society," including the requirement that women wear headscarves in public buildings. The newspaper noted that while many question whether such moves are legal, given the strict separation of church and state mandated by Russia's constitution, Kadyrov replied when asked last month whether the policy was consistent with Russian federal laws: "Chechnya is 100 percent Muslim, and the spiritual revival of the population is essential for the rebuilding of the republic. No one can tell us not to be Muslims. If anyone says I cannot be a Muslim, he is my enemy."

Human Rights Watch's Annual Report Details North Caucasus Abuses

Human Rights Watch's annual report, which was released on January 14, states in its section on the North Caucasus that while the armed conflict in Chechnya has subsided and "significant reconstruction is ongoing" in the capital Grozny, "security forces loyal to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continued to use torture and illegal detention, especially against those with suspected rebel ties," and "growing atmosphere of intimidation fostered by the government in Chechnya inhibits human rights monitoring and accountability for human rights abuses." The report by the New York-based group, "World Report 2009," states that according to local human rights groups, the number of "enforced disappearances" in Chechnya continued to decline this past year, with 30 abductions leading to nine disappearances documented as of September 2008. At the same time, the report states that few efforts have been made to address the cases of as many as 5,000 people "disappeared" in Chechnya since 1999. The report cites, among others, the case of Mokhmadsalakh Masaev, who was abducted and "disappeared" in August 2008 less than a month after a newspaper published his account of ill-treatment during four months in a secret prison in Chechnya.

According to the Human Rights Watch annual report, law enforcement and security forces involved in counterinsurgency in Ingushetia committed "serious human rights abuses" last year, including summary and arbitrary detentions, acts of torture and ill treatment, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions. The report cites the arrest last January of 10 journalists and two human rights activists monitoring a violent demonstration against government repression and corruption. It notes that two of the journalists, Said-Khussein Tsarnaev and Mustafa Kurskiev, were kept overnight in custody and denied access to counsel, food, and water, and that police severely beat Kurskiev, then denied him access to medical care. In July 2008, approximately 50 armed members of the security forces in military vehicles took Zurab Tsechoev of the human rights group Mashr from his home in Magas, Ingushetia's capital, and drove him blindfolded to an unknown location, where his abductors accused him of working for the opposition website and beat him, causing serious injuries to his chest and legs, and threatened his family.

Human Rights Watch also detailed the shooting death of founder Magomed Yevloev while in police custody after being detained at Nazran airport on August 31.

Human Rights Watch's annual report notes that the trial of 59 alleged participants in the 2005 uprising in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, began again in October 2008 after a long delay, and that many of the defendants have alleged torture and other abuses while in custody.

Explosion Destroys Building in Nazran; Cause Uncertain

An explosion on January 13 at a building in Nazran that housed the offices of Ingushetia's bailiffs' service killed eight people and injured 23. The Associated Press quoted Marat Prokopenkov of the Emergency Situations Ministry's branch in southern Russia as saying that an initial investigation suggested a gas leak was to blame, but other possible causes including terrorism were also being considered. A spokeswoman for the regional branch of the federal Investigative Committee, Svetlana Gorbakova, said authorities suspected a gas blast.

Agence France-Presse reported that Ingushetia's President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov called for three days of national mourning starting January 14 and ordered state television and cultural bodies to cancel their entertainment programs during this period. A Kremlin statement said that President Dmitry Medvedev also asked Yevkurov to pass on his condolences to the victims and their families and ensure the necessary assistance is provided to them.

Kavkazky Uzel reported on January 14 that the federal Emergency Situations Ministry was sending an Il-78 transport plane to Ingushetia to pick up six people wounded in the explosion and fly them to Moscow for treatment.

An unidentified gunman shot a police squadron commander dead with a sniper rifle in Nazran late on January 11. Citing Ingushetia's Interior Ministry, the Associated Press reported that another police officer was wounded on January 11 when a police station was riddled with bullets fired from a passing car near the village of Yandare.

Ingushetia's Interior Ministry reported that four suspected militants were killed in a clash with security forces on January 11. The Associated Press quoted ministry officials as saying that the fighters were hiding in a house in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya and that police were trying to start talks when the militants opened fire. One civilian and three policemen were wounded in the fighting. According to Ingushetia's Interior Ministry, the gunmen were ethnic Chechens and were wanted on criminal charges in Ingushetia and Chechnya.

A bomb went off near a hospital in Ordzhonikidzevskaya late on January 9. Itar-Tass reported that a woman was wounded in the blast and hospitalized.

North Caucasus Insurgency Attracting Mainly Young and Committed Members
By Mairbek Vatchagaev

The profiles of those who join the ranks of the resistance fighters in the North Caucasus have often been young and for the most part either come from rural areas or have gone over to the resistance in order to take revenge for a murder or for a humiliation that they or their family members have experienced. Such descriptions, however, are now out of date.

The qualitative composition of the armed underground in the North Caucasus today is a grade higher than it was at the outset of military activities in the North Caucasus in 1999-2000. This implies that those who join the ranks of militants are not only young people motivated by romanticism, but also those who consciously choose not to be reconciled with the authorities based on political as well as religious motivations.

Observers frequently conclude that young people are drawn to the militants because of an accumulation of unresolved problems in society. Human rights organizations also simplify everything by attempting to explain grievances only in terms of revenge for crimes committed by the authorities ( According to this interpretation, everything is simple: if one does not have work, one is ready to fight; if one is humiliated by police officers, one is ready to fight.

Actually it is not quite that simple. Before leaving to join the militants in the forests or mountains and before taking up arms, young people learn a lot on the Internet, where the militants are portrayed as liberators and the romanticism surrounding this image is strengthened ideologically by the desire to free the homeland from the "kafirs," which means infidels and is the most widely used term on the resistance movement's propaganda websites. They leave for mountains when they become absolutely convinced by the adherents of radical points of view on the situation in the region. For them the question of religion becomes the primary issue, while the rest (achievement of independence, revenge) assumes secondary importance. At present many on-line youth forums on the Internet function precisely in the vein (see, for example,,

A simple analysis of those who visit such forums can yield an average profile of an ardent adherent of Salafi doctrine on the Internet. He or she is young-in the 18-20 age range-and almost always a college student, often away from home. They might be a student in Moscow or in one of the Western countries or, on rare occasions, a student at an Islamic institute in the Middle East. Whatever the case, he or she is a young person who is only about to begin an independent life; a person who is easily attracted to idea of comprehending the truth and distinguishing it from untruth. Thus, while criticizing what he or she saw or continues to see at home, he or she begins to seek the "truth" in Salafi teachings which, unlike others, convey their main tenets in terms that are easily accessible for young people.

Although young people do represent the majority of those who join the ranks of militants in the mountains (, they still do not form the core of the various militant groups. More mature and experienced militants represent continuity between those who have died at the hands of spetsnaz and police and those who have recently joined the militants' ranks. It is worth noting that the attitude of the youth can change given that the initial romanticism usually evaporates with the realization that life in the mountains is quite difficult. But even if a recruit returns home, it does not mean he completely loses contact with his former unit. In fact, he essentially becomes its contact in a given village or town in order to help provide the militants with food supplies, clothes and operational information. Thus, the elements of resistance are present not only in the mountains and forests in the form of jamaat members directly involved in the armed struggle, but also in the form of average residents, who extend assistance to the resistance movement while blending in with the general population of every village.

The militants have no age requirements. For instance, among those killed during the operation to dislodge militants holed up in a residential apartment building in Dagestan on August 26, 2006, there was Zubail Khiyasov, a former Dagestani culture minister and director of the Kumyck National Theater of Dagestan, who was close to 70 years old ( Khiyasov was not an isolated case. For instance, the father of Shamil Basaev, who was over 70, was also a resistance fighter and even commanded a small armed group that was liquidated in the Nozhai-Yurt district of Chechnya in 2002 ( Similar instances can be cited in virtually each of the jamaats and provide vivid examples of the fact that people of all ages are participating in the war against the authorities.

It is also possible to put under the militants' broad umbrella that part of the population which helps the armed opposition because of family ties. Whether or not there are shared ideological views, any interaction with relatives who happen to be militants is governed by the mechanism of highland ethics that is inherent in all Caucasian peoples. It implies that if a person invokes a name of a relative, then to assist him or her is not simply an obligation but also a matter of personal honor. The invisible forces of customary law or adat enter into force and make it possible for a person seeking assistance from strangers to know that he or she will not be turned down just because he or she has relatives who are in the ranks of militants. Of course, equally important here is that people treat the authorities as a hostile force from which they expect trouble ( This explains why the authorities cannot defeat the militants despite the fact that the number of security forces has increased exponentially. For instance, according to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, his combined combat-ready law enforcement forces in the Chechen Republic now totals approximately 27,000 people. This total does not include the tens of thousands of military personnel in the republic, including several thousand operatives from the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), as well as a few thousand servicemen from the detachments of the Special Operations Police Squad (OMON), Special Rapid Reaction Unit (SOBR) and regular police units dispatched from other regions of Russia.

Moreover, there is another group of people who do not assist and do not participate in armed clashes but continue to latently sympathize with everything that the militants do against the authorities. This is a sizeable part of society, and it is absolutely passive. Under present conditions, this group may even support the authorities. Yet an opinion survey carried out in the capital Grozny in December found that 39 percent of respondents think the resumption of military activities in the republic is possible. This group thinks that the security situation has not improved in the past several years ( Hence, what people say in front of the camera and what they actually think drastically differ. It is this part of the population that is becoming a decisive force in the conflict, because the balance of power between the opposing forces depends on the degree of its involvement.

In conclusion, although the youth represent the main element filling the ranks of jamaat members, they also include people from other age categories. Moreover, it is important to consider all forms of support-both from the active and passive parts of the population-because without these various forms of support the very existence of resistance would become problematic. Judging by the current developments in the region, it is possible to state that the armed resistance is driven mainly by small victories, but that with regard to the dissemination of its ideas and views, it is more successful than the authorities. The authorities give priority to the use of force and try to sweep the problems under the rug. Based on this, one can be absolutely certain that the resistance movement will not incur any cardinal losses in the coming years. This means that the North Caucasus will remain a volatile area for many years to come.

Dr. Mairbek Vatchagaev is the author of the book, "Chechnya in the 19th Century Caucasian Wars."

Is Krymshamkhalov's Murder a Political Assassination?
By Fatima Tlisova

In Karachay-Cherkessia, the unstable republic in Russia's North Caucasus with a population of less than 450,000, the political year and preparations for elections to the local parliament began with a tragic start. On Tuesday, January 13, the vice speaker of the parliament and leader of the parliamentary faction from the Party Spravedlivaya Rossiya (Just Russia), 47-year-old Islam Krymshamkhalov was gunned down in the capital of the republic, Cherkessk.

According to the press release issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Karachay-Cherkessia, the Member of Parliament (MP) was killed at the entrance to the building of the Supreme Court of the republic at 9:30 PM local time. In an apparent drive-by shooting, machine gun volleys burst from a passing vehicle just as Krymshamkhalov stepped out of his parked car to enter the court building. The machine gun fire killed the MP on the spot (

On January 14, the president of Karachay-Cherkessia, Boris Ebzeev, made an official assessment of this tragic event, which he characterized in the following manner: "This was a political crime, act of political terrorism, which was well prepared and well organized" (

Before his appointment to the position of president of the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, Ebzeez worked for a long time at the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation where he took active part in the creation of the Constitution of the Russian state.

During the behind-the-curtains negotiations regarding the candidacy of the next president of the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, which the Kremlin was carrying out amidst the local elite prior to the appointment of Ebzeev, Krymshamkhalov was apparently lobbying for another candidate. Yet, he still considered Ebzeev's appointment by Moscow as a positive and thoughtful step (

Subsequently after Ebzeev's appointment, he attempted to bring Krymshamkhalov into his team. This is how the president described his attitude toward the assassinated MP: "This person was a true opposition figure. But he was in opposition to criminality, corruption and bribery. I am for such opposition. This is why I felt deep respect toward this person. I thought he had a bright future and I placed big hopes on him."

The reason why Ebzeev praised the deceased MP opposition figure is clear-Islam Krymshamkhalov represented one of the most respectful Karachay clans, which traced its lineage to the princely family-and in that capacity he presented serious opposition to the previous president of Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, Mustafa Batdiev.

Already in the early 2000s, Krymshamkhalov entered a coalition with another influential figure, Islam Borlakov, who occupied the post of supreme judge of the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia for more than 15 years. Borlakov and Krymshamkhalov possessed decisive influence in Karachay society, including both the elites and the population at large. The national movements, such as the Council of Karachay People, as well as the media, including the newspaper Vesti gor (Mountain news), and human rights organizations and individuals, who had political aspirations or who suffered from the authorities-all of them sought support or alliance with this duo.

Islam Krymshamkhalov was the only member of the parliament of Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, who publicly supported the families of seven young Karachays, who were killed in the autumn of 2004 at the villa of the son-in-law of then President Mustafa Batdiev, Ali Kaitov. Kaitov was a powerful criminal boss and the owner of a controlling share in the largest cement factory in the Caucasus region.

As a result of assistance rendered by the MP Krymshamkhalov and the Supreme Judge Borlakov to the families of the victims, the president's son-in-law was arrested and convicted of group murder along with twelve of his bodyguards and friends.

In 2004 the Prosecutor General's Office of the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia launched a criminal case against Krymshamkhalov. He was accused of inciting unrest to oust the constitutional order in the republic and organizing mass disturbances. The formal pretext for these criminal accusations was the mass demonstration against the criminal authorities and the ensuing seizure of a government building by an outraged crowd consisting of mostly women.

The "Karachay revolution" failed, but the government building was occupied by the crowd for more than three days. Among the demands of the protesters were calls to secede from Russia. The Kremlin representative Dmitriy Kozak managed to defuse the situation through peaceful negotiations at the time. The factual result of the negotiations was Kaitov's arrest and subsequent conviction.

Four years ago Krymshamkhalov admitted in a private conversation to the author of this article that Kaitov would take revenge for his defeat and that he would be one of the main targets of this revenge. It is possible that Kaitov, who is serving his time in jail, has no relation to the assassination of the MP. Yet, it is rather suspicious and worrisome that Krymshamkhalov's assassination occurred right after Mustafa Batdiev, Kaitov's father-in-law and former president of Karachay-Cherkessia, suddenly left the republic. In doing so, Batdiev's sudden departure appears intended to avoid having the assassination of the opposition figure reflect negatively on his political career or personal security.

Krymshamkhalov became the fifth MP from the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia and seventeenth high-ranking person, who was killed in the republic since 2000. None of the previous murders have been solved with the exception of the assassination of the MP Rasul Bogatyrev. It should be noted that Krymshamkhalov took active part in the investigation of that murder case (

Krymshamkhalov was planning to continue his work in the legislative body of the republic. Not long before his death he registered as a candidate to run in the parliamentary elections of Karachay-Cherkessia, which are scheduled for March 1. Krymshamkhalov's murder sets the stage for a nervous election campaign, according to the Caucasus expert Konstantin Kazenin. (

The parliament of Karachay-Cherkessia consists of 73 MPs. The MPs are allied in different coalitions depending on their party affiliation. The largest faction is represented by the Kremlin's party Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia), which is also the case across Russia in general. Krymshamkhalov, who used to head the faction Spravedlivaya Rossiya, was put on the ballot by Edinaya Rossiya in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This change of party affiliation indicates that Krymshamkhalov was no longer in opposition to either local or federal authorities.

It is noteworthy that the party coalitions in the parliament of Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia as well as in parliaments of other multi-national subjects of the Russian Federation represent only formal associations. In practice the MPs are allied in factions based on their nationality. In particular, in Karachay-Cherkessia, where inter-ethnic tensions are recurrent, nationality is a forever dominating feature that trumps all other factors, including political views or religious preferences. For instance, even in the main assembly hall, where Parliament holds its proceedings, the seating arrangement of MPs is based on their ethnic groups. So the parliamentary majority of Karachays usually occupies the left side of the hall, whereas the center and front rows are occupied by Cherkess and Abazins, and farther rows by Russians and Nogays, while the right side is reserved for the press.

The physical location of MPs in the main assembly hall of the parliament is deeply symbolic. As a mirror it reflects the centers of gravity in the political life of Karachay-Cherkessia. Until recently the center of gravity has been invariably shifting toward the Karachay majority. Yet, it should not be expected that the Karachays' loss of a bright and charismatic leader will inevitably lead to the restoration of the equilibrium. The preponderance of one of the sides or, in other words, the domination of the national majority over minorities will remain unchanged, thereby preserving smoldering intra-republican ethnic standoff. It is, however, precisely this sort of situation that virtually guarantees relative stability of Moscow's positions in the region because it is guided by the principle of "divide and conquer."

Fatima Tlisova is a Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.