Staunton, February 7 – The dramatic events in Daghestan, including the arrest of most of the republic government, widespread FSB searches, and the imposition of virtual martial law as far as officials are led Russian commentators to try to find an explanation for something they haven’t seen before at least recently.
Some are suggesting that Moscow staged this coup (afterempire.info/2018/02/06/dag-perevorot/) to prevent an armed uprising or a civil war of the regional clans (caucasustimes.com/ru/zakulisnye-igroki-dagestanskih-arestov/, beregrus.ru/?p=10735 and fedpress.ru/article/1957150).
Others speculate Putin has decided to show in Daghestan what he can do elsewhere in order to bring regional elites to heel (topcor.ru/108-zachistka-kavkaza-putin-reshilsya-na-nemyslimoe.html) or alternatively to at least end the dominance of political clans (newizv.ru/news/politics/05-02-2018/dagestan-kak-prohodit-razgrom-klanovoy-aristokratiivedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2018/02/06/750026-dagestane-zachistka).
And still other Russian commentators – the overwhelming majority in fact – have taken at face value the statements of the Kremlin’s earlier installed leader in Makhachkala that this is all about fighting corruption and that it should not be viewed as having any greater meaning or consequences than that.
But perhaps the most thoughtful explanation for why this is all taking place now has been provided by Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin who says that now that the center lacks the funds to continue to buy off regional and republic elites, it can maintain its power over them only by the use of force (nv.ua/opinion/oreshkin/gosudarevo-oko-2450286.html).
What we are seeing now in Daghestan is “a completely Stalinist method of fulfilling the main state task about which no one speaks aloud – the maintenance of the unity of the state formation under the name ‘Russian Federation.’” Without money, “this unity is guaranteed by force methods” alone, the commentator says.
Stalin used force and thus was able to pull resources out of the republics, but after his death, the Soviet system changed and found itself compelled to give more to the republics than it took from them, at least in some cases. “For example,” Oreshkin says, “Tajikistan over the course of its existence received 2.6 times more money than it produced.”
Now, within the Russian Federation, “the very same situation exists in Chechnya and Daghestan.” But the Kremlin has ever less money to spend: “Sanctions, the price of oil, and economic ineffectiveness” have all contributed to that; and as a result, the center has turned to “the Stalinist method” – when you can’t pay, you can at least jail, inspiring fear.
It is important to recognize, Oreshkin continues, that this is “a fundamental problem” and that it is “not connected with the elections” as some have thought. The only way it is linked to the elections is that the Kremlin has been forced to explain what is going on by pointing to the need to combat corruption.
What is really going on, however, is something else, “the strengthening of the power vertical,” something “all the siloviki give stormy [prolonged] applause to “because as a result, “their role in the state will become ever more significant.”
There are two aspects of the situation Oreshkin does not discuss but which are likely to be important. On the one hand, what Moscow is now doing in Daghestan it has done before and Daghestani patterns of governance have emerged thus forcing Moscow to repeat what it did earlier (kavpolit.com/articles/dagestanskoe_delo_s_chem_stolknetsja_desant_moskov-37341/).
And on the other, Moscow’s use of outsiders is likely to prove counterproductive because it suggests the center doesn’t trust anyone local (ura.news/articles/1036273828) and because it inevitably leads people to ask why they’re needed since we have our own (idelreal.org/a/artyom-zdunov-dagestan/29025149.html).
Mikhail Gorbachev’s imposition of an ethnic Russian as party leader in Kazakhstan in December 1986 arguably signaled the beginning of the end of the USSR, especially given that the Soviet leader undercut his own argument that there were no Kazakhs he could trust by immediately arranging to have an ethnic Kazakh serve as second secretary.
Putin and his entourage may assume that they don’t face the same kind of challenges; but it seems clear that just like Gorbachev, Moscow is going to have to involve Daghestanis in the rule of their own republic – and when the center does that, it will be difficult to maintain the pretense that all this violence and repression was necessary in the first place.