By Paul Goble
he Russian government has put Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak in charge of the conduct of nationality policy in addition to his responsibilities for overseeing the preparation of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a combination that highlights Moscow’s growing concerns about Circassian criticism of this venue.
In a commentary on Politcom.ru, Roksana Burntaseva argues that Kozak is well-qualified to oversee nationality policy through a state commission but that he may be most useful to Moscow in the context of what many are now calling “the Circassian question” regarding the Olympiad in Sochi (www.politcom.ru/11672.html).
“Several Circassian organizations have accused the federal powers that be and the organizers of the Olympiad of ignoring the historic possession of the lands of Greater Sochi by Circassian tribes,” populations who were expelled from the Russian Empire in 1864 with so much many lives lost that some have labeled that event a genocide.
With Kozak’s new position, he can “if this will be necessary” serve as “a counter-argument for the International Olympic Committee and other interested sides” should it prove to be the case that “the conflict around the Circassian question will receive further development.” Indeed, Kozak’s new post will thus have “positive” results “from a political point of view.”
That is all the more likely to be the most important reason behind his appointment given that “it is obvious that the appointment of a single individual even someone with experience of working with national minorities will hardly be able to help resolve ‘the nationality question’ in Russia to a significant degree.”
Such an appointment became a near certainty, Moscow media outlets say, after President Dmitry Medvedev at a recent State Council meeting rejected calls for restoring a Ministry for Nationality Affairs such as existed between 1994 and 2001 but agreed that there was a need to have someone coordinate policy in this area (vz.ru/politics/2011/3/28/479327.html).
Kozak has great experience in this area not only as a result of his earlier work in the Presidential Administration on local and regional affairs but also because of his service between 2004 and 2007 as Presidential plenipotentiary for the Southern Federal District which at that time included all of the troubled North Caucasus republics.
Valery Tishkov, who served as nationalities minister in the 1990s before Vladimir Putin disbanded the ministry and transferred its functions to the interior ministry, the foreign ministry, and the ministry of economic development, told “Vzglyad” that Kozak’s success will “depend” on who will serve on the nationalities commission he will oversee.
That is all the more so, Tishkov continued, because Kozak, like other vice premiers, is overwhelmed with work and thus will have to rely heavily on the commission and its staff if he is to be effective. If the commission consists of serious people, Tishkov suggested, the prospects for real progress exist. If not, then it is likely that little will be accomplished.