Staunton, October 10 – In Soviet times, Moscow allowed a non-Russian to occupy the top job in the republics but inserted a Russian as number two who had real power. But under Vladimir Putin, the center increasingly has been inserting Russians or completely Russified non-Russians in the top jobs all at once, Vadim Sidorov says.
The result of this policy, the Russian commentator says on the Region.Expert portal, has been disastrous: The debts of the republics have risen, unemployment there is the highest in the country, healthcare has been destroyed, and the population is fleeing to Russian cities in desperation (region.expert/procurator/).
But so far at least, the Kremlin has not learned anything and continues to displace non-Russians with Russians and highly Russified non-Russians in the positions of power, especially in the restive North Caucasus, under the assumption that only they can prevent popular anger from growing into an explosion.
Daghestan was once headed by members of the indigenous nationalities. But Ramazan Abdulatipov who left the top job there in 2017, has now been replaced by two interior ministry generals, Vladimir Vasilyev, who has just retired because of health, and Sergey Melikov, who distinguished himself fighting against the Chechens.
“The growing alienation of each new ‘head of the republic’ by its indigenous peoples is one aspect of this new appointment,” Sidorov says, forcing observers to face up to the fact that “ethnic and religious factors in a democratic republican system and the same factors in an imperial-colonial one are completely different things.”
In the United States, for example, the white Protestant majority can elect a Catholic or a Black. That was the free choice of the voters. But “no one asks the Daghestanis whom they want to see as head of ‘the republic.’” Instead, they sent Melikov, someone who may look like one of the Daghestanis but in fact isn’t.
The product of an ethnically mixed marriage – his father was a Lezgin but his mother an ethnic Russian – he “grew up in Russia, married a Russian and demonstrated his Orthodoxy on public occasions.” He may call himself a Lezgin, but most Daghestanis will view him first and foremost as a Russian.
It is of course possible that Daghestanis might choose such a leader if he had first won their trust by demonstrating that he is concerned about their interests. But no one asked them, and they have every reason to assume that in a region “with a Caucasian Muslim majority,” Moscow chooses to send Orthodox Russian agents of its rule.
This latest action by the center will further exacerbate both ethnic and religious relations in the region, leading ever more Daghestanis to an understanding that they are being ruled not as part of a democratic system but rather as an outpost of empire in which they are dismissed as second-class citizens or worse, Sidorov suggests.