Thursday, August 6, 2015

Moscow Wants a Chechen Solution for Daghestan But May Get an Even Worse Outcome

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 6 – What is taking place in Daghestan now, a “Vzglyad” journalist says, “can be compared with the second Chechen war” in that as in Chechnya, Moscow wants to return the republic to the Russian legal field just as it hoped to do in Chechnya. But as in Chechnya, what Moscow intends for Daghestan and what it is likely to get may not coincide.

            On the one hand, Daghestan is multi-national and at risk of fragmentation if the delicate balance among the major nationalities there is undermined. And on the other, almost any strongman Moscow might install would likely be forced to cut deals and behave independently as Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov has and thus represent another kind of problem for Russia.

            In an article in “Vzglyad” yesterday, Petr Akopov says that the wave of FSB attacks on and arrests of Daghestani mafia leaders has already changed the balance of ethnic power in the republic, something that may undercut Moscow’s hopes to restore popular trust in the government in Makachkala (

            Two of the four major nationalities of Daghestan, the Avars and Kumyks, have suffered as a result, he continues; the third nationality, the Dargins, had already been much weakened by earlier arrests.  That leaves as a target for the future the Lezgins who are a particular problem because they live not only in Daghestan but also in Azerbaijan.

            In combatting corruption in Daghestan, Moscow will “consciously support the principle of ‘national quotas’ lest it give Daghestanis an occasion for seeing in the current purges some kind of national aspect,” Akopov says. But given that these quotas are themselves the source of many of the problems, accomplishing both goals at the same time will be difficult.

            The extraordinarily diverse national composition of the republic and the ways in which ethnic conflicts are intermixed with land disputes both “frightens a Moscow worried about interethnic conflicts” and “has allowed local clans to speculate on this issue by setting up mafia-like, vertically integrated power structures and in fact getting out from under federal control.”

            An additional complicating factor of what Akopov calls “the Daghestan disease” is the region of that republic which borders Chechnya,” something that has allowed Daghestan has a whole to avoid direct Moscow intervention until recently, first because Moscow was too weak in the 1990s and more recently because it lacked forces on the ground it could count on.

            “The local clans, cemented on the basis of ethnicity and territory, were thus able to subordinate to themselves literally everything in Daghestan – the economy, the state apparatus, cadres, and the social sphere,” he writes. Without some kind of outside intervention, as with the FSB now, nothing was going to change.

            “Of course,” the Moscow journalist says, “there is and was corruption in other regions of Russia, but nowhere did it acquire such a size or such a qualitative level. But the main thing is not even in this – nowhere in Russia have such large and stable criminal communities remained in power and in a republic with three million people.”

            They constitute “a real mafia,” he says, and crime in all its forms has become “a norm of life,” something “the leadership of the republic has not been able to do anything about.” And Moscow’s resources are limited: the share of ethnic Russians has fallen by half, and the center controlled “only part of the force structures,” the FSB.

            “Daghestan has lived as a state within a state,” and that situation has been further exacerbated by the appearance in this “largest North Caucasus republic” of “the most powerful and massive armed underground,” one that includes both Islamists and many, including highly placed officials, simply angry at Makachkala.

            It has become increasingly obvious that things could not continue in this way for long: there would be “an explosion.” And as a result, Moscow decided that it had to purge the upper reaches of the republic government. That led to the appointment of Ramazan Abdulatipov in early 2013 as head of the republic.

            An ethnic Avar who left the republic decades ago for Moscow and unconnected “with a mafia clan,” Abdulatipov was supposed to clean house. He has taken a number of steps, but they are clearly insufficient and now Moscow has moved in. Indeed, in May 2014, it sent a signal that it would do exactly that.

            At that time, Moscow named Sergey Melikov, a lieutenant general as the presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus. He is a Lezgin but someone who has lived almost his entire life outside the republic and who has made a career in the Soviet and then Russian interior forces.

            Melikov has clearly been deeply involved in the latest moves of the FSB in Daghestan, Akopov says; but what has been done up to now is “completely insufficient.”  There needs to be “a thoroughgoing cadres revolution” in Makhachakala and Daghestan more generally, and the risks of that sparking violence are all too real.

            Some in the expert community are already speculating that Moscow will replace Abdulatipov with someone from the security services, but if it does, not only will that offend the leaders of at least three of the four largest nationalities there, but it will potentially lead to more violence (

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