Sochi: Olympic Opportunities for Law Enforcers

December 17, 2013

This editorial ran in Vedomosti, a Russian business news agency started by the Dow Jones, the Financial Times, and the owners of the Moscow Times. — Ed.

The upcoming Olympics in Sochi creates new opportunities for the struggle for political influence and financial flows in the North Caucasus.

In addition to the usual news about explosions, acts of terrorism and special operations against militants in recent months we see quite frequent reports of dismissals and arrests of officials, business leaders and community activists.

On Friday, 11 activists of the Circassian national movement were detained. Most of them were later released, but were required to appear for questioning. Through the media, Circassians called to respect the memory of those who died during the battles of the Caucasian War of 1817-1864. Some of the Olympic tracks run through their burial grounds. In Dagestan, in late November, police detained several participants of rallies in support of Murad Musayev, a lawyer against whom criminal charges had been brought. In the Krasnodar region two environmentalists are on trial. The law enforcement agencies have repeatedly detained Sochi activists who protested against the Olympic construction projects, and journalists covering rallies and demonstrations.

The other day a court ordered Magomed Kaitov, a former director general of JSC “MRSK of North Caucasus”, arrested until February 11. He is suspected of embezzling the company’s funds in the amount of 4 billion rubles. Experts compare Kaitov’s influence with that of Said Amirov, a former mayor of Makhachkala arrested last summer. On December 6, Arsen Kanokov, the president of Kabardino-Balkaria prematurely retired, and Yuri Kokov, the former Interior Minister of the Republic was appointed acting president.

The replacement of Kanokov with Kokov looks most transparent: a businessman was replaced by an Interior Ministry general, whose professional skills are more important in the short-term for the Kremlin in the Olympic region.

The security pretext is used by various groups to increase their influence, as well as to take control of financial flows. Accordingly, the law enforcement activities are two-pronged. Arrests of Kaitov and Amirov, the dismissal in February 2013 of Ahmed Bilalova as the chairman of JSC “Resorts of the North Caucasus,” and the vice-president of the Olympic Committee of Russia, were motivated by Moscow’s desire to remove powerful local clans from power and financial flows.

The desire to put the financial flows, especially federal subsidies, under the control of the center is logical, but in the current situation of degradation of state institutions (including the courts) it could lead to concentration of power in the hands of their competitors and the growing influence of the law enforcement and security services.

The campaign against all kinds of activists, including environmentalists, advocates of national heritage, moderate Islamists, experts also associate with the Olympics. The authorities want to clear the area around Sochi from any disgruntled elements that could compromise a positive image of the country as the host of the Olympics games. Nobody seems to care that the current unwillingness to maintain a dialogue with society may adversely affect the course of events after the Olympics.