Monday July 22, 2024

Protest rages in Kalmykia

October 01, 2019

Ukraine leader takes charge in Russia’s Buddhist city


MOSCOW: A former Ukrainian separatist leader has been appointed as city mayor in a Buddhist region of Russia, sparking protests in the usually Moscow-loyal republic.

Dmitry Trapeznikov, who last year briefly held the role of acting head of eastern Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region, was last week appointed acting mayor of Elista, the capital of Russia’s Kalmykia republic.

Hundreds came out to protest the move on the city’s main square at the weekend, accusing authorities of "disrespect" over the appointment, Russian news agencies reported. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday that the selection of the mayor was "exclusively the prerogative of the head of the region".

The leader of Kalmykia, a 39-year-old former world champion kickboxer, issued a video address calling for calm. Trapeznikov has "colossal experience of restoring Donbass," said regional head Batu Khasikov, referring to eastern Ukraine.

"I think it would be hard to think of a better school for an anti-crisis manager." More than 13,000 lives have been lost in the ongoing conflict between Kiev and Moscow-backed separatists.

Kalmykia, which lies north of the Caucasus on the Caspian Sea, is the world’s westernmost Buddhist region with a population of around 300,000 people. It is no stranger to controversial leadership figures.

Kalmykia’s eccentric leader for nearly two decades until 2010, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, headed the World Chess Federation and famously claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Elista’s previous mayor is on the run, facing criminal charges.

Trapeznikov, 38, was born in southern Russia but was a long-term resident of Donetsk, where for several years he managed the Shakhtar Donetsk football team, owned by wealthy oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. He joined the Moscow-backed separatists when the conflict broke out in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Protests against the authorities are rare in Kalmykia, which is one of the regions most loyal to President Vladimir Putin, according to voting figures. Almost 82 percent voted for him in a presidential election last year.