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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Misguided Merger

President Vladimir Putin is an avid downhill skier, so they are building him a residence in the Krasnaya Polyana ski area in the mountains above Sochi. Putin's interest in the area has boosted the political clout of Alexander Tkachyov, governor of the Krasnodar region, which includes both Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana.

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Tkachyov has used this newfound influence to promote his pet project: merging the Krasnodar region and the republic of Adygeya. After Khazret Sovmen, president of Adygeya, came out strongly against the proposed merger, hard-line pro-merger parties made a strong showing in the regional parliamentary election. Early last week, Sovmen tendered his resignation in protest and then disappeared.

Thousands gathered in the regional capital, Maikop, last Thursday to protest the Kremlin-backed merger. But the demonstration also delivered an unspoken message -- that Russians in Adygeya would share the fate of Georgians in Abkhazia. Before war broke out in the early 1990s, ethnic Abkhaz made up just 20 percent of the population of Abkhazia. When Abkhaz separatists prevailed in the armed conflict, almost the entire non-Abkhaz population fled the region. Ethnic Adygs currently account for roughly 20 percent of the population of Adygeya.

I realize that Adygeya is a poor region and that many of its inhabitants thought that Sovmen, a wealthy metals magnate, would do for their region what Roman Abramovich has done for the Chukotka autonomous district. Although Sovmen compares favorably with most governors, he seems, unfortunately, to have sought the presidency of Adygeya primarily to break into the federal ruling elite and to secure lucrative contracts for himself.

Moscow's policy in the Caucasus should not be tied to the ambitions of a governor who happens to run the region where Putin likes to ski. Tkachyov's merger plan would result, at best, in a great deal of unpleasantness and, at worst, in catastrophe.

Maintaining the current administrative borders offers the best hope of stability in the North Caucasus. If Krasnodar is allowed to swallow Adygeya, what's to stop Ingushetia from demanding the return of the disputed Prigorodny district from North Ossetia, or Chechnya from trying to annex the Botlikh district of Dagestan? Revising borders in the North Caucasus is a Pandora's box that only those bent on inciting armed conflict in the region would open.

It should also be remembered that while Adygeya is a small republic completely surrounded by the Krasnodar region, the Adygs are spread more widely in the region, including the Kabardin and Cherkess people as well as the closely related Abkhaz, all descendents of the Adyg tribes that originally populated the region.

Up to this point, armed conflict has been limited to the Eastern Caucasus, primarily Chechnya. In the 19th century, however, the Russian empire systematically destroyed the Adygs living in the Western regions near the Black Sea. Hundreds of thousands died in the genocide. Many others were deported to Turkey or forced into the mountains, where they were carved up by Cossack settlements. To this day, the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions separate Adygeya from Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Karachayevo-Cherkessia from Kabardino-Balkaria. Moscow's latest actions in the region -- inciting an uprising in Kabardino-Balkaria, beatings in Adygeya and the proposal to merge Krasnodar and Adygeya -- could drive the Adyg peoples to take up arms. How this could possibly serve Moscow's interests is unclear.

Whatever the demands of the Chechen separatists might have been, they never went beyond the independence of Chechnya itself. It should be obvious that if the Adygs take up arms, their goal will not be the independence of one tiny region but the creation of Great Cherkessia. Historically this would include Pyatigorsk, Kislovodsk, the Stavropol and Krasnodar regions and Krasnaya Polyana, where Putin's residence is being built.

The president's fondness for skiing could have entirely unforeseen consequences.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.