Jailing ‘Said the Deathless’ Won’t Pacify Dagestan

By Mark Galeotti
The Moscow Times | Jul. 15 2014

For 15 years, Said Amirov shrugged off periodic assassination attempts — even the one in 1993 that left him in a wheelchair, with a bullet lodged in his spine — to remain the master of Makhachkala, perhaps the most unruly city in Dagestan, now the most unruly republic in the Russian Federation.

Last week, following his arrest in 2013 for plotting to shoot down a rival’s plane, Amirov was sentenced to 10 years in jail. That he was toppled from his position, and through a court rather than a Kalashnikov, says something about modern Russia.

Deputy premier of Dagestan since 1991, Amirov acquired a name as a ruthless political operator whose campaign against local gangs was characterized by many as just an attempt to supplant them with his own allies. In 1998, he was elected mayor of Makhachkala and held that position until his arrest and suspension from office in 2013.

Amirov appeared bulletproof in every sense of the word. He survived at least a dozen assassination attempts, some say 15, including rocket attacks on his offices in 1998. Just as importantly, he appeared politically unassailable. Despite continued allegations of brutality, corruption and crime links, he outlasted four Dagestani leaders and three Russian presidents.

No wonder that, as well as the nickname "Roosevelt" — because of his wheelchair — he was also known as "Said the Deathless," after Koschei, the immortal villain from Russian folklore.

When Moscow decided to move against him, it had to consider the strength of his local power base. This included not only his own private army of bodyguards but also considerable influence in the Dagestani police and, allegedly, a drug-trafficking gang known as the Kolkhozniki. As a result, his arrest was closer to a raid in hostile territory, spearheaded by Federal Security Service commandos brought in from outside the republic, backed with armored vehicles and helicopter gunships. Such was the concern about his sway over the local authorities that Amirov was immediately airlifted to Moscow, along with his nephew and nine other suspects.

If Moscow had been happy enough to let him build his fiefdom for 15 years, why did it turn against him? Part of the reason appears to have been that he fell afoul of the powerful Investigative Committee by his involvement in the 2011 murder of one of its regional heads, Arsen Gadzhibekov.

Although Amirov was to be convicted on the basis of a different case, his plot to use a surface-to-air missile to shoot down a plane carrying Sagid Murtazaliev, head of the Dagestan Pension Fund, started the process rolling.

But even the Investigative Committee cannot reach in and pluck someone like Amirov from his fortress-like home and deposit him in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison without a political decision having been made by the Kremlin.

The very reasons that once seemed to make Amirov such an admirable local proxy — his skill at managing the complex ethnic and factional politics of Dagestan, his ruthlessness, his networks within both the underworld and the elite, his industrial-scale corruption, his acquisitive ambition for himself and his family — all became liabilities.

Although the insurgency in the North Caucasus speaks the language of jihad, in the main it is a product of endemic failures of governance. Corruption has not only hindered any attempts to bring meaningful economic progress to this impoverished region, it has also deepened the divide between the handful of haves and the have-not majority.

Given that Amirov had openly been preparing a bid to become the next governor of Dagestan, his arrest was a powerful symbol of a new bid to try to master the corruption and clientelism making the North Caucasus virtually ungovernable.

It was also significant how this case was carried through. Instead of a quiet but forcible retirement, as had been offered to past figures whom the Kremlin wanted gone, Amirov was arrested, tried and convicted. The overall picture is of a case taken through the legal system properly.

Amirov was sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison colony and was deprived of his state awards. These included some that, ironically enough, had been given to him by the Federal Security Service. This is unprecedented for one of the Kremlin’s former local strongmen. It may even be a cautionary tale for other local kleptocrats.

Meanwhile, there are some very limited grounds for hope in Dagestan. In June, it was announced that it was third only to the Nizhny Novgorod and Sverdlovsk regions for implementing the 218 "May Orders" from the socio-economic program President Vladimir Putin outlined in his 2012 inaugural address. This may be so much eyewash, but there has certainly been some real progress on the ground. This year has seen industrial production up 24.1 percent, and as a result unemployment is slowly declining, although not quickly enough.

Some of the regional aid funds, typically devoured in orgies of embezzlement, are going to the projects they were meant to fund. Projects such as the reconstruction of the Makhachkala-Tbilisi road, which would help trade with neighboring Georgia, are at last under way. The delayed 100-megawatt Gotsatlinskaya hydroelectric power station, begun in 2007, is about to be commissioned. Dagestani billionaire Suleiman Kerimov has bought a majority stake in Makhachkala Airport and is expected to invest more than $86 million in it.

Mission accomplished, then? Hardly. Just as one can see signs of progress in the way Amirov was toppled, one can also see the limitations of the system in what has happened since then.

Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov initially tried to adopt a more conciliatory and reformist style. But as disappointment grew at the slow pace of change, he responded with a more authoritarian and divisive approach. Protests have been dispersed, triggering ethnic riots. Meanwhile, the insurgency remains active and violent. Even the news about Kerimov’s investment has been greeted with caution, as it is likely less to reflect his confidence in regional air traffic and more an investment in buying favor in the Kremlin and influence in Dagestan.

The problem is that "fixing" the North Caucasus is not just about removing a few individuals but re-engineering structures of governance to create genuine legitimacy. Without political stability, guaranteed property rights and a serious and sustained campaign against predatory corruption and embezzlement, economic progress will continue to be driven either by subsidies from Moscow or investments like Kerimov’s, intended more to buy influence than kickstart a moribund economy.

Abdulatipov quickly squandered the optimism generated by Amirov’s arrest. Amirov’s conviction creates another brief opportunity, but if the Kremlin lets this one also pass, it is hard to see any real hope for the North Caucasus.

Mark Galeotti is professor of global affairs at New York University.



Lawyers For Former Makhachkala Mayor Appeal Prison Term
RFE/RL Caucasus Report | July 19, 2014

Makhachkala ex-mayor Said Amirov at a court hearing in Rostov-na-Donu in April 24

The team of lawyers representing former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, once one of the most powerful men in Daghestan, and his nephew, Yusup Dzhaparov, has appealed the prison terms handed down to the two men on July 9.

The North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-na-Donu found them guilty of plotting a terrorist act and sentenced them to 10 and 8 1/2 years in jail respectively. It took the three presiding judges 2 1/2 hours to pronounce the verdict which they took turns to read.

Amirov and Dzhaparov had both pleaded not guilty to the charge that they acquired a surface-to-air missile with a view to shooting down an aircraft in which Sagid Murtazaliyev, head of the Daghestan subsidiary of the Federal Pension Fund, would be travelling.

In his final address, Amirov dismissed the charge against him as utter rubbish, based on rumor, wholly unsubstantiated, and politically motivated. He stressed that he had no motive for wanting to kill Murtazaliyev.

Dzhaparov, for his part, claims he was beaten on the back of the head during the pre-trial investigation and subjected to electric shocks. He said he was warned that he would receive a life sentence if he refused to incriminate his uncle.

Procedural Violations

The half dozen defense lawyers pinpointed 108 separate procedural violations in the course of the pre-trial investigation and the two-month trial that began on April 24. They also highlighted contradictions in the indictment and in the testimony of witnesses for the prosecution. The judge dismissed those violations and discrepancies as insignificant.

The prosecution’s case was based primarily on the testimony of one man, Magomed  Abdulgalimov, a former assistant to the Khasavyurt city prosecutor. Abdulgalimov (aka Kolkhoznik) is also the key witness in a second case in which Amirov and Dzhaparov are suspected of commissioning the murder in December 2011 in Kaspiisk of investigator Arsen Gadzhibekov. It was in connection with that murder that the two were first arrested in June 2013.

Abdulgalimov was arrested in October 2012 on a charge of embezzlement. According to his lawyer, Sergei Kvasov, investigators only began questioning Abdulgalimov about his links with Amirov in late January-early February 2013. It was at that time that Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Ramazan Abdulatipov as Republic of Daghestan acting President in place of Magomedsalam Magomedov.
Abdulgalimov said in court in late April that he had been tortured during the pre-trial investigation.

Abdulgalimov testified that Dzhaparov, with whom he was on friendly terms, introduced him to ‘Amirov, who asked him to procure a portable antiaircraft missile launcher, which Abdulgalimov says he eventually purchased for $150,000 from a Chechen acquaintance.  Abdulgalimov says that in return for his help, Amirov promised him the post of Kaspiisk mayor. But instead of handing the weapon over to the two accused, Abdulgalimov said he buried it in Karabudakhkent Raion, just south of Makhachkala. Video footage of the missile being dug up is part of the prosecution’s case.

The prosecution further claims that –  that at a second meeting, which took place at the mayor’s office in Makhachkala — Amirov asked Abdulgalimov to find someone trained to fire the missile, and disclosed that it was to be used to kill Murtazaliyev. At that juncture, according to the prosecution, Abdulgalimov got cold feet and warned Murtazaliyev of the preparations to kill him.

Amirov’s lawyers, however, produced records in court of the mobile phone calls made by Dzhaparov, Amirov and Abdulgalimov on April 26, 2012, the day Abdulgalimov claims the second meeting took place. Those records show the three men could not have met as neither Abdulgalimov nor Dzhaparov was in Makhachkala that day. (Dzhaparov was in Kaspiisk.) Those two had, however, exchanged phone calls.

The defense lawyers also summoned as witnesses Tamara Kanayeva, who was in charge of Amirov’s appointment calendar, and several persons who did meet with Amirov at his office on April 26. Kanayeva said Abdulgalimov did not have an appointment with Amirov on that day and could not have seen him without one.

Other visitors denied having seen him in the municipal offices that day. One of Amirov’s close aides similarly denied ever having seen Abdulgalimov in the mayor’s office.

Amirov pointed out that Abdulgalimov’s description of the interior of the city hall was incorrect. He said his bodyguards were permanently stationed on the fifth floor of the building, not the fourth floor as Abdulgalimov had claimed.

As for the surface-to-air Strela-2 missile that Abdulgalimov says he transported in his armored Land Cruiser to the hiding place in Karabudakhkent, Amirov’s lawyers say that two separate protocols describe the weapon as having a different size and shape. They claimed the weapon dug up was in fact an Igla missile measuring  164 x 10 cm, whereas the missile produced in court, which a Federal Security Service (FSB) specialist testified was in working order, was a Strela -2. They produced wooden mock-ups of both missiles in court, but the judge refused to allow an experiment to determine whether either would have fit into the trunk of the vehicle in question.

Equally problematic were the prosecution’s efforts to demonstrate why Amirov should have wanted to kill Murtazaliyev.  Murtazaliyev testified in court that Amirov had asked him to write off billions of rubles in unpaid contributions to the Pension Fund owed by companies Amirov controlled, but witnesses for the defense said no such debts to the Pension Fund existed.

Other witnesses for the prosecution suggested that Amirov regarded Murtazaliyev as a possible rival in the event of a direct election for the post of president of the republic. Amirov, who was first elected mayor in 1999, is a Dargin, the second largest of Daghestan’s 14 titular ethnic groups. Murtazaliyev is an Avar (the largest ethnic group.  Avars account for 29.4 percent of the total population of 2.9 million while Dargins account for 17 percent.). In the early 2000s, Murtazaliyev was a prominent member of the so-called Northern Alliance, a group of Avar politicians who sought to oust then President Magomedali Magomedov (a Dargin).

Half a dozen parliamentarians had appealed unsuccessfully in late 2009 to then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to include Amirov’s name in a shortlist of candidates to succeed then Republic of Daghestan President Mukhu Aliyev. An opinion poll conducted in the spring of 2013 suggested that Amirov would have defeated acting President Abdulatipov in an open presidential ballot.

Amirov, however, explicitly denied in court that he had ever considered Murtazaliyev (a former Olympic wrestling champion) as a political rival.

Polarized Public Opinion

The gaping holes in the prosecution’s case against Amirov, and the fact that he was stripped on the day the verdict was announced of the various state honors he had been awarded in the course of his political career, lend credence to suspicions of a deliberate attempt to compromise and sideline him as a political figure, and possibly even bring about his untimely death in jail.

Amirov, 60, is wheelchair-bound as a result of injuries sustained in 1993 during one of a dozen attempts on his life; he also suffers from diabetes and hepatitis. One Daghestani commentator opined that, given the combined expertise of Amirov’s defense lawyers, "the devil himself would have had no trouble getting off scot-free."

What is more, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin announced on July 9 that the investigation into the involvement of Amirov and Dzhaparov in Gadzhibekov’s murder is almost complete. Markin pinpointed as the imputed motive for that murder that Gadzhibekov was investigating crimes committed by Amirov’s subordinates. The possibility remains, too, that on the basis of Murtzaliyev’s testimony, a third criminal case may be brought against Amirov for withholding mandatory contributions to the Pension Fund.

Public opinion in Daghestan is polarized. Amirov’s numerous supporters, not all of them his co-ethnics, remain convinced that he is the innocent victim of a show trial. Others, pointing to the numerous bids over the years to kill him and his nickname "Bloody Roosevelt," are inclined to believe that even if the charge of plotting to kill Murtazaliyev was indeed fabricated, Amirov nonetheless deserves to serve time for other crimes that have not come to light. Or, as blogger gumbetowsxy put it: "There is not enough water in the Caspian to wash clean his sins, and we know it."

— Liz Fuller


Former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov Found Guilty

Former Makhachkala Mayor Jailed For Planning Terrorist Act
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | July 09, 2014

The former mayor of the Daghestani capital, Makhachkala, has been sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security jail.

Russia’s North Caucasus Regional Military Court found Said Amirov guilty of planning a terrorist act and illegal weapons possession on July 9 and sentenced him the same day.

Amirov was arrested in June 2013 and charged with involvement in plotting a missile attack against a plane carrying Sagid Murtazaliev, the head of the Russian Pension Fund’s branch in Daghestan, and of organizing the 2011 murder of Investigative Committee official Arsen Gadzhibekov.

Amirov’s co-defendant, the former deputy mayor of the city of Kaspiisk, Yusup Dzhaparov, received 8 1/2 years in jail on the same charges.

Both had pleaded not guilty.

Amirov, 60, became Makhachkala’s first elected mayor in 1998. An assassination attempt in 1993 left him wheelchair-bound.



Russian Ex-Mayor Guilty in Plot to Murder Rival With Anti-Aircraft Missile
The Moscow Times | Jul. 09 2014

Said Amirov, who faces 13 years in prison, was the mayor of Makhachkala, in southern Russia.

The former mayor of the capital city of Russia’s restive Dagestan region was convicted on Wednesday of plotting to assassinate a rival official by shooting down the man’s plane with an anti-aircraft missile.

Said Amirov, who faces 13 years in prison, was the mayor of Makhachkala, in southern Russia, for 15 years before he was arrested over the assassination plot last year. He had been re-elected four times during his time at the post, and more than 15 documented attempts were made on his life.

In the fall of last year, prosecutors charged Amirov with plotting to shoot down the plane of the Dagestan Pension Fund’s influential chairman, Sagid Murtazaliyev, and illegally acquiring a Strela-2M handheld rocket launcher to perform what prosecutors considered a "terrorist attack," state news agency ITAR-Tass reports.

Amirov’s nephew, Yuruf Dzhaparov, the former deputy mayor of the southern city of Kaspiisk, was also found guilty of conspiring with his uncle. Prosecutors have requested that Dzhaparov be imprisoned for 11 years.

Amirov was also accused of organizing the 2011 assassination of one of his region’s top investigators, Arsen Gadzhibekov.




Court sentences Said Amirov and Yusup Djaparov to 10 and 8.5 years of imprisonment
Caucasian Knot | 09 July 2014

The North-Caucasian District Military Court has found both Said Amirov, dismissed Mayor of Makhachkala, and his nephew Yusup Djaparov, guilty of plotting a terror act, and sentenced them to 10 and 8.5 years of imprisonment, respectively. This was reported by the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent from the courtroom.

Said Amirov is to serve his sentence in a high-security penal colony. The sentence period starts from the date of his detention.

The Court found untenable the defence’s statements that the witnesses allegedly gave their testimonies under torture.

Let us remind you that the defendants did not admit their guilt in the crimes imputed to them.

The defence of Said Amirov has stated the sentence is unlawful and announced its intention to appeal against it.

According to the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent, supporters and family members of Said Amirov have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the verdict. "Shame!" shouted one of the persons, who attended the trial. Being dissatisfied with the verdict, the people have claimed that the verdict ignores the testimonies given by the defence witnesses and the achievements of Said Amirov.

Author: Oleg Pchelov; Source: CK correspondent



ICRF: Said Amirov may face new charges
Caucasian Knot | 09 July 2014

Staff members of the Investigating Committee of the Russian Federation (ICRF) did not stop their activities to reveal and investigate the crimes involving Said Amirov, Mayor of Makhachkala, who was dismissed from office. In this connection, investigator may reveal new episodes of his criminal activities. This has been reported today by Vladimir Markin, Spokesperson of the ICRF.

The "Caucasian Knot" has reported that in December 2013, the ICRF announced the completion of the investigations against Said Amirov. He was charged with plotting a terror act to assassinate Sagid Murtazaliev, the head of the Russian Pension Fund for Dagestan, and organizing arms trafficking.

Furthermore, staff members of the ICRF believe that Said Amir was involved in the murder of investigator Arsen Gadjibekov. According to the investigators, the Arsen Gadjibekov’s murder was ordered by Said Amirov and organized by Magomed Abdulgalimov, Assistant Prosecutor of Kizlyar. The investigators believe the crime was committed by Magomed Kadiev, and Yusup Djaparov, Deputy Mayor of Kaspiysk, and Magomed Akhmedov, an investigator from the Kirov ROVD (District Interior Division) of Makhachkala, are involved in the criminal case as accomplices.

"The criminal case on the Arsen Gadjibekov’s murder is to be finished soon," the "LifeNews" quotes Vladimir Markin as saying today.


Local cleric found dead in Russia’s Dagestan

Text of report by Russian internet news agency Regnum, specializing in regional reporting

16 May: The imam of Stalskoye village in Kizilyurtovskiy District of Dagestan, Omaraskhab Alibekov, who was kidnapped on 15 May, has been found dead, the imam’s relative who lives in the village, Magomed Gadzhiyev, told a REGNUM on 16 May.

According to Gadzhiyev, the imam went to Kizilyurt for business. However, after a while, relatives could not get through to him. "Early in the morning, a burnt car with a dead body inside was found in Buynakskiy District. We could hardly identify him," Magomed Gadzhiyev said.

There have been no reports from the law enforcement agencies about the incident yet. The investigations department of the Investigations Committee of the Russian Federation did not comment on the incident either.

There have been several murders of religious figures in Dagestan. Magomed Zakaryayev, 32-year-old teacher of a religious school, was killed on 10 April  2014 in the village Nechayevka in Kizilyurtovskiy District.

On 3 August 2013, imam Ilyas Ilyasov was killed in Makhachkala. Ismayil Gadzhiyev, the imam of a mosque in Uchkent village of Kumtorkalinskiy District was killed in October 2013. The imam of a local mosque, Gadzhi Aliyev, was murdered in Khadzhalmakhi village of Levashinskiy District in November 2013.

Source: Regnum news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1235 gmt 16 May 14

Slain Dagestani cleric said to be insurgency leader’s nephew

A village cleric who has been found dead in the southern Russian region of Dagestan is a nephew of the North Caucasus insurgency leader, Abu Mukhammad, Kavkazskiy Uzel website quoted the local police as saying. The man’s relatives said that the day before he was found dead the cleric had been detained by the police. The following is the text of report by Russian Kavkazskiy Uzel website, specializing in news from the Caucasus, on 16 May; subheadings have been inserted editorially:

16 May: Omaraskhab Alibegov [mentioned in previous reports as Alibekov], an imam of Stalskoye village in Dagestan’s Kizilyurtovskiy District who was found dead [on 16 May], was presumably abducted by law-enforcers on 14 May, one of the imam’s relatives has said.

The dead man was identified by the relatives as Omaraskhab Alibegov who was a nephew of the new leader of [self-proclaimed] Caucasus Emirate, Abu Mukhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov), a source within the Interior Ministry said. The information has not yet been confirmed officially.

On 16 May, the dead body was found in a burnt car in Dagestan’s Buynakskiy District. Local residents said the dead man was the imam of a mosque in Stalskoye village of Kizilyurtovskiy District.

The relatives identified Omaraskhab Alibegov, born in 1974, a source within the Kizilyurtovskiy District police department told Kavkazskiy Uzel. The dead man is a native of Teletl village of Shamilskiy District, and also a relative of the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Aliaskhab Kebekov (Abu Mukhammad), the source said.

Alibegov’s relatives did not appealed to the district police department about his abduction, the source said.

"After he (Omaraskhab Alibegov) went missing, his relatives were worried and started searching for him. On 15 May, we learnt through unofficial channels that he had been detained," a relative of the deceased said.

His relatives learnt that he had been held at a police department. "A high-ranking police official said that he would soon be set free and that relatives should not make a big deal out of this. However, on the night of 15 May he was found dead in his car," the man said.

His relatives assume that "the imam was killed and then blown up in order to cover traces of torture," he noted.

According to local resident, the situation is tense in Stalskoye village due to religious disagreements there. Conflicts occur periodically between representatives of Sufism and Salafism. The slain imam was a Salafi, local residents said.

Imam enjoyed locals’ support

Meanwhile, the chairman of the association of lawyers Traditsiya, Ziyautdin Uvaysov, said that he had many times visited Stalskoye village where Alibegov was the imam of local main mosque. The lawyer said that Alibegov enjoyed support of the locals.

"After a number of reports in the mass media about the alleged tense situation in Stalskoye in 2012, I together with Kavkazskiy Uzel correspondent Akhmednabi Akhemdnabiyev visited the village to verify the information and to communicate with local residents. Natives of many Dagestani regions live in that village. Despite of this, most of the villagers supported the imam," Ziyautdin Uvaysov told Kavkazskiy Uzel.

"Only a small group of people who complained to various agencies, trying to get the imam replaced. This was back in 2012. Later, the conflict was resolved. I can tell it again – that majority of the villagers supported Alibegov. The mosque was filled with visitors every Friday. The mosque was crowded on Fridays," Uvaysov said.

The Interior Ministry and the Investigations Committee have not officially confirmed the report about Alibegov’s detention on 14 May and his having been identified by his relatives.

At least two people were killed in Stalskoye this year [2014].

On the evening of 26 April, the 60-year-old farmer, Gadzhi Gasanguseynov, left a dairy market in the village, and did not reach home. The following day, his corpse with bullet wounds on it was found inside a car.

On 21 January, law-enforcers carried out a special operation in the village to search for members of illegal armed formations. On the same day, Eldar Magatov, born in 1984, who according to law-enforcers had been the leader of Babayurtovskaya group, was killed in a shoot-out.

Source: Kavkaz-uzel.ru website, Moscow, in Russian 2354 gmt 16 May 14


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


Commentary says Russia conducts "zombie politics" in Dagestan

Moscow conducts "zombie politics" in its southern region of Dagestan by placing people with little influence as its leaders, a commentator has said in a Dagestani weekly. The article quoted Khasavyurt mayor Saygidpasha Umarov as saying that deciding on who will lead Dagestan is "within the exclusive jurisdiction" of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Dagestani public can only guess about reasons behind this policy, the article said. Meanwhile, opposition to the incumbent head of Dagestan, Ramazan Abdulatipov, convened in secret for the second extraordinary congress of the peoples of Dagestan in Makhachkala. Delegates from various Dagestani towns and districts accused Abdulatipov of leading the region to "all-out corruption, poverty and unemployment, persecution of citizens for political and religious reasons, and mass violations of the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens and peoples of Dagestan" and urged Putin to replace him. The following is the text of Ruslan Magomedov’s article published on the website of Chernovik newspaper on 6 June, headlined "’Clandestine’ gathering and ‘zombie’"; subheadings as published:

The second extraordinary congress of the peoples of Dagestan gathered in an extreme secrecy in a public catering building called Rozovyy Flamingo [Pink Flamingo] in Makhachkala on 31 May. The organizers say that a considerable number of people, 271 delegates from towns and districts, attended the event. Due to the secrecy of the congress, the public found out about it only from scant information that appeared in the social media. The reason for the secrecy was the stern response of law-enforcement bodies to attempts by public figures to convene it earlier… [ellipsis as given throughout]

Between the first and…

The first extraordinary congress of the peoples of Dagestan took place at the Kosmos hotel in Moscow in November 2012. It was directed against the then president of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, and was accompanied by numerous revelations and scandals. The then Dagestani authorities did not take seriously (and actively announced this) the delegates; some were detained, some were shot at and some became the target of revelatory press conferences and articles in the official press… However, eventually everything came together (and maybe did not): the outcome of the congress at the Kosmos was that Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom the delegates asked to replace the government in Dagestan, decided that Magomedov has to work in the Kremlin and Ramazan Abdulatipov, a State Duma MP that everybody had forgotten about, has to "liberate the republic from slavery".

Back then the people behind the first extraordinary congress and opposition activity of a number of Dagestani public organizations, for example Gadzhimurad Omarov, the head of the local branch of the A Just Russia party; the former head of the Pension Fund of Dagestan, Amuchi Amutinov; and human rights activist Ruslan Rasulov, welcomed these changes. At the initial stage they even supported Abdulatipov in his policies. However, something went wrong in the relations between the new government and new opposition…

The opposition began talking of their intention to hold the second congress long ago. They regularly discussed policies carried out by the head of Dagestan and criticized his personnel policy when relatives of Abdulatipov came to power and people affiliated with him were appointed to local government bodies (as a case in point, take the election of the head of Kulinskiy District in 2013).

The opposition politicians could not hold the second extraordinary congress publicly, with invitations to the media and government officials. Police thwarted the event that was scheduled for 19-20 April in the Rossiya cinema in Makhachkala.

Now bearing in mind that "war is all about tricks", the organizing committee of the congress first reported in the media that the delegates would meet again in Moscow in mid-June, and held the extraordinary congress in Makhachkala under the guise of a conference of the Dagestani regional branch of A Just Russia. Kavkazskiy Uzel quoted Ruslan Rasulov as saying that this was done "for the sake of secrecy, in order to fool the authorities and not let them use mixed squads of turncoats with epaulettes and criminals to thwart once more the congress of the peoples of Dagestan, as they did on 19 April".

Words and deeds

At the congress where, according to information that the organizers published, Amutinov was the chairperson and Omarov assisted him, the delegates again suggested that the Russian president dismiss the head of Dagestan ahead of time. According to their opinion, Abdulatipov’s words diverge significantly from his deeds and over the past two years this led Dagestan to "all-out corruption, poverty and unemployment, persecution of citizens for political and religious reasons, and mass violations of the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens and peoples of Dagestan". The measures Abdulatipov passed "are not adequate to the situation and lead to a further destabilization of it", according to the delegates. "The situation in the republic is worsening catastrophically and is already on the verge of a social explosion," they warn Putin. As replacements for Abdulatipov they suggested three politicians: [head of the local branch of the A Just Russia party] Gadzhimurad Omarov; First Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council Ilyas Umakhanov and Khasavyurt mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov. These surnames emerged as a result of a kind of primaries the delegates conducted in the course of the congress. In fact, as the basis they used a slightly amended list of surnames from the "Dagestani ranking of influence. Version 2.0" (Chernovik’s issue No 19 of 16 May 2014).

Incidentally, Denga Khalidov, an aide to the head of Dagestan, responded to the list of candidates and described the congress as a "clandestine gathering", "hack job" and a "theatre of the absurd". In his comments for RIA Dagestan [news agency] he dismissed accusations of corruption and destabilizing the situation in the republic levelled against the team of the head of Dagestan. Khalidov demanded that the Umakhanovs publicly dissociate themselves from this event.

This is how Saygidpasha Umakhanov responded to his promotion through the city administration’s website: "I am honoured that Dagestanis paid attention to my humble person. Thank you. At the same time I wish to point out that as an acting head of local government I am a member of Ramazan Abdulatipov’s team and I put in all my efforts and energy to conduct the policy he chose for renewal and further development of Dagestan. I do not hatch any thoughts, aspirations and attempts to take the chair of the first person of Dagestan." The reaction of Ilyas Umakhanov remains unknown…

"Zombie" politics

Saygidpasha Umakhanov, eschewing a promotion, uttered another statement that is important according to Chernovik: "In fact, it is high time for all of us to become realists and understand that resolving this matter is within the exclusive jurisdiction of Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin". In other words, it is in no way up to Dagestanis themselves, their opinion and their vision of the situation who will lead Dagestan. (Meanwhile, 32 Russian regions will have popular elections of the heads of territories and regions.)

Dagestani politics is different from politics in other federation regions because "zombie politics" is possible here. Only in Dagestan can a "political corpse", a person who discredited himself or has no influence, "stand and walk" instructions from Putin! Let us recall the period of the State Council and [former Dagestani leader] Mukhu Aliyev. In that historical period did anybody believe that a politician openly considered to be weak would lead the republic? Only idealists did. Recall the period of relations between Mukhu Aliyev and [his successor] Magomedsalam Magomedov. Was Magomedov considered influential and promising after he was thrown from his post of the chairman of the People’s Assembly [parliament]? No. The extent to which his political outlook looked bleak can be judged from the number of close friends who turned away from him. However, at the end of 2009 he "came back to life" and in 2010 headed the republic. Just two years later, Ramazan Abdulatipov replaced him. The Dagestani public had already forgotten about Abdulatipov and had long lost the desire to see him as Dagestani leader…

We can only guess (there are corruption theories, as well as theories of ploys as intricate as Chinese stratagems) about the policy of the federal centre, which imposes on us "dark horses" (who lack real political weight and authority in society). Hence, Dagestanis (including those who sit in numerous cabinets of the [Makhachkala] White House) can only speculate whom the Kremlin will decide to be the Dagestani leader this time round. (What is more, it is absolutely not important whether this will take place five years from now – if we believe Abdulatipov, or in September – if we believe rumours.)

Who will they bet on? On the Umakhanovs (Ilyas or Saygidpasha), [Chechnya’s] Ramzan Kadyrov, [Russian presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District] Sergey Melikov or [former head of the Dagestan Directorate of the Russian Federal Security Service] Nikolay Gryaznov? May be on Gadzhimurad Omarov? Time will show. For the time being our government seeks to please the federal centre (although federalism usually involves a somewhat different kind of relations) in every way, and pushes away from it society which – owing to the acting Dagestani president’s fear of losing the election to [the currently imprisoned] Makhachkala mayor Said Amirov and owing to the conformism of members of the People’s Assembly – has been deprived of the opportunity to decide who will lead the republic.

[BBCM note: The last sentence says "acting Dagestani president". However, Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov’s official title no longer includes the word "acting".]

Source: Chernovik, Makhachkala, in Russian 6 Jun 14


Slain teacher said involved in rebel leader’s murder

Rebels in Russia’s North Caucasus region claimed that a school-teacher killed in Dagestan on the night of 2 June had been involved in an operation to kill a Chechen rebel leader in 2003.

"[Rebels in] Dagestan confirmed the earlier report about the elimination of a participant in the operation against Chechen amir Khamzat [Ruslan] Gelayev [in Dagestan in 2003]. It was found out that the apostate worked as a teacher in a village school," North Caucasus jihadist website Kavkaz-Tsentr reported on 6 June.

The website noted that Akhtubek Malayev, who was killed in the village of Komsomolskoye in Dagestan’s Kizilyurtovskiy District on the night of 2 June, was awarded the Order of Courage following the operation.

"’The murder was probably linked to those events’ – local puppets admitted in interviews with Russian mass media and disclosed that Malayev had been repeatedly threatened for assisting Russian infidels [security agents]," the report added.

On 2 June, the Dagestani state-run local news agency RIA Dagestan reported that masked persons had come to the house of the teacher and fired point-blank at him. He died of gunshot wounds on the way to a hospital, the report added.

Sources: Kavkaz-Tsentr news agency website in Russian 6 Jun 14; RIA Dagestan, Makhachkala, in Russian 0518 gmt 2 Jun 14


Georgians question government claims about Russian militants

Nicholas Clayton
September 5, 2012

Residents of a remote valley dispute Tbilisi’s claims it killed more than 10 Islamist fighters in a shootout last week

ANKISI GORGE, Georgia — Tbilisi has blamed a deadly shootout last week on "armed subversives" it said took hostages after crossing the Caucasus Mountains from Russia.

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