Staunton, April 3 — Vladimir Putin has chosen a Duma deputy from Sverdlovsk with an FSB background and service in the notorious Alpha Group during his Chechen wars to be the head of the new Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, an indication of how the Kremlin leader intends to use this new tool and why Igor Barinov may be just the man to do it.
When Putin called for the creation of the new agency last month, many were skeptical it would amount to more than a new arrangement of bureaucratic chairs, especially given that Putin disbanded the nationalities ministry more than a decade ago and that for such an agency to deal with ethnic issues generally would require more power than he would be willing to cede.
But now, far more than listing the new agency’s duties in his decree, Putin has given a clear indication of what he expects the agency to do by his appointment of the former FSB officer, one that Barinov himself has reinforced in his first interview since his appointment.
Barinov, a native of the North Caucasus, will be working with other North Caucasians now in Moscow on ethnic issues, including Magomedsalam Magomedov, the former Dagestani president who serves as a nationalities advisor to Putin, Gadzhimet Safraliyev, who chairs the Duma’s nationalities committee, and Ilyas Umakhanov, vice speaker of the Federation Council.
But Barinov, an ethnic Russian (something many Russian commentators argued was an absolute necessity for this position), denied that he would be spending “80 percent” of his time on the North Caucasus. Instead, he said, his focus will be “above all” on not allowing pogroms like those which broke out in Moscow’s Biryulevo district.
To do that, Barinov said, he will “monitor inter-ethnic conflicts” in order to be in a position to intervene in a timely fashion and prevent them from becoming explosive.
He added that it is still too soon to say exactly how that will be done given that as yet “there is no agency, no building and no staff.”
Asked by URA.ru whether he had taken his views on nationality policy arose from his service in Chechnya, Barinov replied “not only then. Let us begin with the fact that I was born in the North Caucasus, in Novocherkassk.” Moreover, during various jobs, he said he had gotten to know the local population in many places of the country.
“We [in Russia],” he argued, “have many centuries of experience with a successful nationality policy.”
If that is what he believes and if he sees himself more as a policeman than anything else, the future of nationalities policy under Putin is likely to prove even more repressive and thus dangerously explosive than the present.