The longtime head of the restive southern Russian region of Kabardino-Balkariya has submitted his resignation to President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin envoy in southern Russia said Friday.
The governor, Valery Kokov, said in his letter to Putin that he wanted to be relieved of his powers "due to his desire to step down," according to envoy Dmitry Kozak.
The Kremlin has considered Kokov, whose approximately 15-year reign in the mostly Muslim Caucasus Mountains republic goes back to Soviet times, a key to stability in the volatile region, but Kabardino-Balkariya also has seen the rise of Islamic extremist movements and violence in recent years. Kokov, 63, has long suffered from cancer.
Ruslan Nakhushev, head of the All-Russian Military Fund in Kabardino-Balkariya, said there was a "kernel of truth" to the Kremlin's fears of regional destabilization following Kokov's departure.
"If he goes, Kokov will leave Moscow with a clan system, riddled with corruption, that will be difficult to control," Nakhushev said.
He suggested another reason for the Kremlin's fears was that Kabardino-Balkariya under Kokov has consistently delivered more than 90 percent of votes in favor of Kremlin-allied candidates and parties.
Kokov once hosted Putin in his home village, where he introduced the president to his mother. Putin recently awarded Kokov a medal "For Service to the Fatherland", an honor no other Russian Caucasus leader has achieved.
The republic, which boasts Europe's highest peak, 5,641-meter (18,510-foot) Mt. Elbrus, has some of Russia's most grinding poverty. According to official data, the republican government owes more in unpaid salaries, welfare payments and utility bills than it earns.
This past spring, the republic saw a wave of protests by citizens demanding an end to violent military sweeps for suspected Islamic rebels and more thorough investigations into several scandalous, unsolved murders of residents including the head of a village outside the provincial capital Nalchik and a famous sportsman, Rasul Tsakoyev.