Russia Threatened With Secession

18 November 1998

Filed at 8:52 a.m. EST

By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) -- The young millionaire leader of a southern republic has threatened to secede from Russia, prompting a quick warning of retaliation today from the Kremlin.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, 36, the elected president of Kalmykia, went on Russian television Tuesday night to say he would push for secession because of the federal government's failure to deliver subsidies to the impoverished region.

Ilyumzhinov reiterated his threat in an interview today with the Interfax news agency. "We shall urge Moscow to give us the status of an (internally autonomous) member, or just secede from Russia," he said.

Ilyumzhinov's bid appeared aimed at getting more federal funds rather than open rebellion, but his statement was likely to strengthen separatist trends in the Russian regions because of the country's economic crisis. He indicated he might settle for greater financial autonomy.

Kalmykia is a barren region along the Caspian Sea with a population of 317,000 people. Kalmyks, descendants of Mongol nomads who settled in the region in the 17th century, now account for nearly half of the region's population.

The threat to secede drew a quick response from President Boris Yeltsin, who today ordered an emergency session of the presidential Security Council to address the issue and draw up a response.

Yeltsin's spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin said on Echo Moscow radio that the session is likely to be held next week.

"In the current difficult socio-economic situation, such statements threaten to destabilize the country's political stability," Yakushkin said.

Ilyumzhinov's bid also prompted lawmakers in the Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, to urge a probe by the Prosecutor's General office.

A rich businessman, Ilyumzhinov is notorious for his extravagant lifestyle. Ilyumzhinov, who is head of the World Chess Federation, says he will run for the Russian presidency in 2000, although few have taken that bid seriously.

Ilyumzhinov was first elected in 1993 and won re-election in 1995 in a vote which was denounced as unfair by the Russian Central Election Commission.

Liberal Russian media have accused Ilyumzhinov of running the mostly rural region like a medieval barony, flaunting his fleet of luxury imported cars and wealth while crushing dissent and ignoring the republic's social troubles. A journalist critical of the president was recently killed, and two suspects who worked for the president have been arrested.

Ilyumzhinov spent huge sums to build the Chess City complex that housed an international chess tournament earlier this year. Human rights activists issued protests, saying the Chess City was built with federal money earmarked for industrial and agricultural programs in Kalmykia.

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