Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin summoned the newly-elected president of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia region, Vladimir Semenov, and Stanislav Derev, the mayor of the regional capital, Cherkessk, to a meeting to resolve tensions following the final round of the region's first democratic elections on May 16.
"The probability of a war in the republic is too serious at the moment," Derev said on May 18, prior to his flight to Moscow.
Fifteen thousand Derev supporters gathered in the central square in Cherkessk the day after the election results were announced to protest the outcome. Karachai Vladimir Semenov, former commander of Russia's land troops, won the election in a landslide; his opponent, former businessman Derev, received only 19 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Semenov's supporters blockaded a number of Cherkess settlements in the mountains populated by Derev loyalists. In response, Derev halted traffic on the republic's main thoroughfare to Stavropol.
Following a short meeting behind closed doors with Stepashin on May 18, Derev and Semenov signed what they termed a peace accord.
According to the agreement, both parties promise to do everything within their power to prevent bloodshed and to end the conflict between their supporters. Derev and Semenov are now making efforts to preserve the territorial integrity of Karachayevo-Cherkessia.
The region's political boundaries had been jeopardized by Derev supporters, who had plans to join the Cherkess and Adygei territories with Stavropol.
In accordance with the signed document, a plenipotentiary of the Russian president will be temporarily installed to oversee provisional rule of the republic until the results of the elections are verified. The president appointed Deputy Interior Minister Lieutenant General Ivan Golubev, chief of the North Caucasus headquarters, to head the task.
After Moscow announced the Semenov-Derev agreement, 4,000 Derev supporters dispersed from Cherkessk. Semenov's men cancelled their blockade of Cherkess mountain settlements, and traffic on the Karachayevo-Cherkessia-to-Stavropol route resumed.
Nonetheless, the situation in Karachayevo-Cherkessia remains tense, as does the threat of military resistance.
Despite the fact that Derev signed the peace accord without demanding any provisions, he tried to give himself as much room to maneuver as he could. Talking to Moscow journalists, Derev said that he had only signed the document as "an individual."
"But masses of people now standing on the square have a different point of view, and in order to maintain peace and accord, their position has to be taken into account," he added.
Prior to the second round of presidential elections, members of support groups for both candidates survived a total of 14 terrorist acts involving explosives, grenades and Molotov cocktails.
A victory of either candidate for the presidential post will inevitably lead to property redistribution in the republic, which could spark a military conflict.
But even if the elections proceed peacefully, Moscow will find neither candidate desirable.
According to unofficial data, much of the money that Derev spent on his election campaign was linked to illegal vodka production in the North Caucuses. It seems unlikely that he would cooperate with Prime Minister Stepashin should he be elected.
And Semenov, a disgraced Russian general with Chechen roots, clearly resembles Chechnya's notorious first president, Dzhokar Dudayev. Moscow would not welcome another independent republic in the North Caucasus.
To avoid a second Chechnya and preserve the republic's current status, the capital will most likely drag out the verification of the Karachayevo-Cherkess presidential election for as long as possible while it seeks a compromise.
Meanwhile, finding a quick resolution to the conflict will not hurt Stepashin's public image as a deft and peaceful politician.