Commentator weighs possibility of Dagestan’s dissolution

It is possible that Dagestan will dissolve in the future, commentator Ruslan Magomedov has suggested in a report. He said that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is consolidating his influence on northern Dagestan, bordering on Chechnya. He recalled a recent incident when Kadyrov accused the mayor of the northern city of Khasavyurt of "banditry", something that only triggered a "mild response" from Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov. He added that Abdulatipov seems to condone the emerging political alignment. Magomedov went on to argue that Azerbaijan is becoming increasingly present in southern Dagestan and that some of Azerbaijani press already refer to the southern city of Derbent as an Azeri city. The following is the text of Ruslan Magomedov’s report published on the website of the Chernovik newspaper on 8 May, headlined "From north to south"; subheadings as published:

Now that the world is closely watching the situation in Ukraine and making predictions on whether or not there will be a war there, curios developments are taking place in Dagestan. To a large extent, these developments are not linked to the domestic situation in our republic but to the foreign policy of our country and relations between Dagestan and neighbouring Russian Federation entities. Judging from individual publications in the press (including those published abroad) and social-networking sites, our republic is on the verge of a collapse after which it will give its northern regions to Chechnya or Stavropol Territory and the southern parts – to Azerbaijan…[ellipsis as published here and throughout the text]

We do not wish to sound categorical yet a number of factors indicate that the political alignment of forces in Dagestan is now undergoing substantial transformations as it partially leans towards Groznyy, rather than the Makhachkala government. The scandal that unfolded between Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Khasavyurt Mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov, was a vivid demonstration of the process. We would like to remind you that last month Kadyrov accused Umakhanov of banditry, weapons sale and instigation of drugs sale after which he essentially closed the entry to Chechnya from Dagestan (now nearly every car that enters Chechnya is checked by Chechen police officers and there are long queues on the administrative border between Chechnya and Dagestan). Umakhanov replied to Kadyrov in a rather tactful and diplomatic manner that he has no intention to start arguing and recalled friendship between the peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan. However, he hinted that he can see Groznyy’s hand in the [prevented] attempt on his life [in March 2014]. Then Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov interfered in the dialogue of the tough politicians. He urged Kadyrov and Umakhanov to exercise common sense and "not to publicize the nuances of their private relations". At the same time, he referred to the former as a "neighbour and a brother" and the latter as "my kinsman", thereby hinting at who is closer to him in this argument…

The North

Abdulatipov’s sympathies with Kadyrov, as well as the fact that he made such mild comments, surprised many of our readers who immediately began to speak about the weakness of the Dagestani leader. Nevertheless, before delivering our verdict, we need to consider the existing realities. One needs to remember that today Abdulatipov is one of the figures of the new regional (that is, North Caucasus Federal District] political union which includes himself, Kadyrov, the head of the Dagestan branch of the Russian Pension Fund, Sagid Murtazaliyev (and through him, State Duma MP Rizvan Kurbanov), and a number of other politicians. In view of the ambitions of the Chechen leader, this union can only implement its tasks as Kadyrov wishes. The Chechen politician, who is a friend of Vladimir Putin, can give each of them [members of the union] what they need: certain security guarantees and support at the presidential, the Kremlin-level. In return, he expects loyalty in issues Kadyrov thinks is important to him.

This kind of union certainly challenges the usual view about political unions on which all Dagestani leaders predicated before Abdulatipov. With varying degrees of stability Dagestani leaders tried to rely on both influential politicians of the republic’s northern zone as well as on the influential politicians of southern Dagestan. The refusal to continue this pattern usually led to the quick dissolution of the leadership seat (the way this happened with Mukhu Aliyev). Such support has always created certain guarantees of political longevity, as well as, some sort of ideological control over the republic’s territory – the situation when the local population and elites turn to the Dagestani leader, rather than to other political forces, for help in resolving their problems.

The situation is now changing drastically. If we consider northern Dagestan, Khasavyurt is the largest economic and political centre there. The city with the population of about 140,000 people borders on Chechnya and has a balancing factor. The balancing means permanent alternation between three main ethnic groups living in Khasavyurt – Avars, Chechens and Kumyks (there are other ethnicities as well but their numbers, according to the population census, does not even reach five per cent).

According to the census of those years, in 2002, 36,911 Chechens (30.30 per cent) lived in Khasavyurt, as well as 34,323 Avars (28.18 per cent) and 33,104 Kumyks (27.18 per cent). By 2010 however, the balance changed to 40,226 Avars (30.66 per cent), Chechens – 37,330 (28.46 per cent) and Kumyks (36,883 (28.11 per cent). These demographic changes naturally affect political developments taking place in Khasavyurt and beyond. Occasionally, the issue emerged of the need of change in the city leadership but both the local authorities (that is, Umakhanov), and the republican government tend to either postpone or suppress the matter. It is no secret that Khasavyurt is in the sphere of interest of the neighbouring republic. Therefore, if the authorities change here (and there is no necessity for an ethnic Chechen to become leader), Chechnya is capable of sharply increasing its influence, thereby essentially (that is, ideologically) seizing it from Dagestan. Over the past five years, many residents of Dagestani districts bordering on Chechnya are regularly asking the Chechen leader, rather than the local authorities, for help in resolving their problems as they believe that the Kadyrov government is more effective. To be honest, this is something the Dagestani leadership (before Abdulatipov’s coming to power) feared. Therefore, in recent years, despite the numerous conflicts, it [republican government] tended to rely on Umakhanov. This has two reasons. First of all, it is hard to find a replacement to Umakhanov from among the Dagestani political elite (he is tough, has good negotiating skills and is a national patriot). Second, it is far easier for the Dagestani government to put up with Umakhanov than with Kadyrov who is a regional leader with an ambition to govern the political process in the entire North Caucasus Federal District. The union between Kadyrov and Sagid Murtazaliyev (who has a strong influence on four northern districts – Khasavyurtovskiy, Tarumovskiy, Kizlyarskiy and Babayurtovskiy) is capable of easily taking away almost the entire northern part of the republic and reorienting it to Groznyy – at least in "ideological terms".

Khasavyurt today is a serious obstacle in this process. Saygidpasha Umakhanov has been the "ideological pillar" of northern Dagestan. So far…

Remarkably, the conflict between Kadyrov and Umakhanov and Abdulatipov’s desire to maintain neutrality in the matter leads to the fact that the influence of the republican leader in the northern zone of Dagestan begins to weaken. Political groups, both those linked to Umakhanov and independent ones, who see that if worse comes to worst, they cannot rely on support from the republic, will refocus their priorities. They will either groups around Umakhanov or seek independent channels to connect to Kadyrov (being a wise politician the latter is always open to such proposals).

The appeal by the Progress Party (led by famous Russian public figure and "denunciator", Aleksey Navalnyy) to the Russian Investigative Committee, the Prosecutor’s Office and the FSB, urging them to investigate Kadyrov’s (who is incidentally a police major general) accusations of banditry against Umakhanov, gave a fresh impetus to this conflict. The logic of the appeal is that if what Kadyrov said is true the municipal official should face justice; if not, the Chechen politician needs to be punished for libel. While the law enforcement system is sorting things out to decide how to react to Navalnyy’s statement in a manner that will bring lesser harm, Kadyrov continues to strengthen his image. The politician’s high key statements linked to the developments in Ukraine, as well as information that "the polite people" [as given] in Crimea were Chechens, have somewhat improved the average Russian person’s attitude towards this North Caucasus republic. At the same time, Kadyrov is boosting his ideological influence on Dagestan. This translates not only into his efforts to establish contacts with influential Dagestani politicians but also into ordinary gestures (from the point of propaganda and political technologies). For example, at the beginning of the month he reacted to comments left in his Instagram profile by a student of the 10th A class of Makhachkala school No 34, Said Nukhulov, inviting his whole class, including students and parents, to Chechnya. Acting as a tour guide, he showed them around a folk festival in Shaami-Yurt, and later Groznyy…

The South

Similar developments are taking place in the south as well, specifically, in Derbent. The open reluctance of the republican authorities to cooperate with the city leadership (as well as with a number of other southern municipalities), coupled with the noticeable emergence of Azerbaijani politicians and investors in the area also threatens to "ideologically" separate this part of Dagestan. Against the background of the Crimean developments, it is also possible that…

This is not without its reasons. The press of the neighbouring country is increasingly referring to Derbent as an Azerbaijani city. Azerbaijani businessmen rush to invest in the city and intend to renovate Heydar Aliyev Street (which was incidentally renamed under direct pressure from the republican authorities), as well as the Nizami Park, engineering communications, various buildings; create green space in adjacent territories and even build an Olympic complex to coincide with the city’s 2,000 anniversary. Azerbaijanis plan to also renovate places of spiritual and ideological heritage, such as the ancient Kyrkhlyar cemetery, and to build an Azerbaijani theatre in Derbent, as well as a Lezgi theatre in Baku. What is remarkable is that the Azerbaijani leadership acts as the guarantor of these investments. However, our neighbours do not intend to stop at this. There are plans to build hospitals, theme parks, a football stadium to accommodate 7,000 people, a sporting complex, tennis courts, shopping centres, schools, logistics centres, a canning factory and so forth. They also intend to build various facilities in the vicinity of the Naryn-Kala fortress and build a national park, an alley of friendship and cable car there.

One would think that these are delightful developments! However, Russian and Dagestani experts suggest there is no need to make hasty conclusions. For example, political analyst and expert Konstantin Kalachev said in one interview: "At the moment, the authorities are not entirely coping with their obligations – failing to provide residents of southern Dagestan with modern infrastructure and jobs. As for the federal government, it seems that now it cannot afford to pay attention to Derbent as Moscow is focused on Crimea. Therefore, it is possible that even the events dedicated to the celebration of the Derbent anniversary will be partially financed by Azerbaijan. The recent visits of Azerbaijani officials to Derbent testify to this. In addition, there are large-scale investments at play. Where are Russian investments at the time?"

The head of the Islamic Research Centre of the North Caucasus, Ruslan Gereyev, essentially speaks along the same lines, saying that "Derbent is Russia’s southern outpost." "We cannot let the volume of investments from the neighbouring republic into this region to surpass those from the Russian Federation. From the political viewpoint, this is an inadmissible move for the state because on the basis of this, the people will decide who the master is here," the expert said.

Certainly, it is doubtful that by "forgetting" about Derbent, the federal and republican authorities will deliberately subject themselves to a direct threat to national security (one theory is to hand over Derbent and part of our lands to the neighbours in exchange for them to forget about the Karabakh issue). Information that the Russian consulate in Baku started handing out Russian passports to anybody wishing to receive them confirms that the situation is partially under control. This information caused great concern in Azerbaijan, which has a joint army with Turkey (a member of the NATO bloc) and has problems with regions bordering on Russia that are predominantly populated by Lezgis and Avars…

Leaving geopolitics aside, southern Dagestan’s wish, prompted by the republican centre’s lack of attention, to be ideologically (and not only) closer to the neighbouring state, is becoming increasingly strong. What is of primary importance here – it remains unclear whether the Kremlin will maintain its influence or whether the republican government will gradually lose its influence in southern Dagestan…

Source: Chernovik, in Russian 8 May 14



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