North Caucasus won’t be an isolated region – presidential envoy
RT: Mr. Khloponin, first of all my congratulations on your new appointment, it’s a great responsibility. What decisions are you going to make in this region at your new post?
Aleksandr Khloponin: I think it’s somewhat premature to talk about specific steps, but certainly the first thing to do is to absorb information. The main task at this point is to travel around the District and see all the territories, all the republics, to meet with people, to listen to them, to get a feel of the real situation in the economy, to see what is going on. After that, I will be able to draw specific conclusions. The only problem is that I have very little time for it, which means I have to do it quickly, but I’ll do my best. So the first step is to become familiar with the situation.
RT: Do you already have any top priority issues, any urgent issues to address?
AK: Of course I do, it’s obvious. That’s what Dmitry Medvedev mentioned both during the meeting and in his address – that the Caucasus, being one of the richest, most beautiful, and oldest regions of Russia, is at present in the doldrums. Of course, there are both objective and subjective reasons for this. And naturally, the negative aspects of the depression this region is experiencing have to do with corruption and inefficient spending of government funds. And this does not create favorable conditions for investments and development of those economic industries which have evolved historically and could be developing well. So, on the one hand, there is a competitive advantage, and on the other, there are problems and conflicts today which are due to a large extent to historical events such as wars, military conflicts, and so on.
RT: Would you say the North Caucasus is a peculiar region?
AK: Give me one region in Russia that isn’t peculiar! I have worked in Siberia for many years. Don’t you think Siberia is a peculiar region?
RT: You are moving from one region to another, special region. Isn’t this a problem for you?
AK: If I move from Moscow to St. Petersburg, does this mean I’m going to a different country? I realize that some things are region-specific, that there are local peculiarities, ethnic traditions, rich culture and history, borders disputes and so and so forth. But this is my country, the state I have always considered to be mine. My father used to be a teacher at a village school in Dagestan after he had graduated from the Military Institute for Foreign Languages as an interpreter. During my career I got to work with a man whose name was Johnson Talovich Khagazheev! He was a Hero of Socialist Labour and Director of the Norilsk Combine. We have many people from the Caucasus, they went through WW2, and many of them have been awarded with the Hero of Russia title. This is our motherland. Of course there are some peculiarities, but it’s my territory. This is just as much a part of the Russian Federation as the Krasnoyarsk Region, Tyumen, or our Far Eastern regions.
RT: How do you plan to build relations with influential regions?
AK: According to the structure of government, according to the vertical chain of command we have today. On the one hand, they are absolutely sovereign constituents of the Russian Federation. They are endowed with serious powers, and their legislature interacts directly with the federal authorities.
On the other hand, there is this newly established district. And the powers I have as a deputy prime minister help me address economic issues more effectively. In other words, I have both political and economic resources to accomplish the tasks we are facing.
Of course, the most important thing now is to provide the conditions necessary to attract investment. In other words, the main task is to transform the local elite, if you will. To help a new modern elite of the North Caucasus evolve. To achieve this goal, we need to reform our education system and many social institutions there.
It also means working with the young generation, promoting respect for the old traditions and new changes among the young people. And the young generation is to be the major power steering and developing the Caucasus in the near future. Therefore, it’s a most pressing task, and we have to develop federal universities, and I shall put this question before the government. It is about setting new education standards.
You will not fail to see that people in the Caucasus are fond of everything which is new and up-to-date. They both respect traditions and appreciate novelties, the best of innovations. They are fond of new imported cars and nice fashionable clothes. And there is already a certain development tendency for some new promising things. And there are good conditions.
Another thing is – and I’ve always said this, it was a major disaster in my work in Krasnoyarsk – geographical location. That’s 4,000 kilometers to reach European markets and 4,000 kilometers to reach Asian markets. I had to produce only those commodities whose transportation expenses did not exceed 5% – and that’s basically raw materials. Here we have fantastic raw materials, gorgeous transportation infrastructure, lots of roads – I don’t see any problems. The lack of proper administration is the only problem.
RT: What can be done in the Caucasus in terms of security?
AK: In terms of security, Caucasus regions certainly are a strategic territory for our country. First of all, because they are located on our borders, and also because there are conflicts within these regions and in neighboring states. Of course, other countries pay much attention to this region. And it is beyond doubt that this region is very volatile, and its stability is very fragile. I have a full understanding that security issues are top priority, our president has mentioned this. But there is a powerful state security, defense and law enforcement system to take care of this, and we shall address these issues together with the heads of these regions.
RT: Can any specific measures be taken, for example, can force be applied?
AK: I wouldn’t hurry with that. I believe, way too much force has been used in this district lately. I rather think we need to provide conditions. At least I view my task in providing conditions for people to live comfortably and with dignity rather than in applying force. And at the first stage this will mean taking care mostly of economic issues, although I am also responsible for the political ones as well.
RT: What should be done to make the Caucasus independent?
AK: Independent from what?
RT: From the center.
AK: Look, according to current legislation and existing articles of federation, constituents of the Russian Federation have all the authority they need to address the problems they are facing. I used to be the governor of the Krasnoyarsk Region. I had enough authority and sovereignty to fulfill my responsibilities before my people. And frankly I do not see what additional changes are necessary here.
It’s part of our country, and these regions are just as much parts of the Russian Federation as the Krasnoyarsk Region or any other region. I don’t see why it should be different.
Moreover, I have no intention to make the North Caucasus stand out even more, it’s the other way round – I need to integrate it as soon as possible, to do everything to encourage people from Moscow, the Krasnoyark Region, or St. Petersburg, or other cities to want to go to the Caucasus – be it for vacation, for fun, or to work and make business, after all, to get a taste of its culture and traditions – rather than to make it a self-standing isolated region, I think it’s a big misconception.