Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Concerns about Sochi Olympiad behind Kremlin’s Move in Daghestan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 29 –President Vladimir Putin named Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of Daghestan in place of Magomedsalam Magomedov who will now work on nationality issues in the Presidential Administration because the Kremlin is worried continuing instability there could threaten the Sochi Olympiad in 2014, according to commentators in the Russian Federation.

            Akhmed Yarlykhanov, a senior researcher at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, told the Caucasus Times that “the decision to change the leadership of Daghestan was dictated by the need to impose order in the republic as the Olympic Games in Sochi approach” (caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=21097).   

            Daghestan in many respects is “the key republic in the North Caucasus,” the scholar said, and Moscow has now “appointed a man who is very much an outsider” on whom the center can rely “because he has not lived in Daghestan for more than 30 years and does not have clan or other ties in the republic.”

            Thus, far more than his predecessor who was very much enmeshed in such ties, Abdulatipov who has a reputation for flexibility and adaptability to changes in policy lines will be in a position to take the kind of actions that could pacify the population there and thus relieve the concerns of Moscow and foreigners about security in Sochi.

            And Biyakay Magomedov, the editor of the Daghestani weekly “Chernovik,” agreed. He told the “Kavkazskaya politika” portal yesterday that Abdulatipov was “a beautiful choice. He is a remarkable man, literate and educated and who is concerned about the republic in ways that earlier leaders have not been” (kavpolit.com/kreml-xochet-spokojstviya-do-olimpiady/).

            But Abdulatipov was chosen less for those qualities than because “the Kremlin wants to ensure peace and quiet in the region before the Olympics.  If the Duma does not adopt a law putting off elections of regional heads, then there will be voting in Daghestan in September.” The new man, unlike his predecessor, “would have every chance of winning.”

            But “if the selection of the head of the region remains with popular assemblies, Magomedov continued, “then Moscow will not be risking anything at all [by its choice of Abdulatipov]  because the deputies can be counted on to confirm any candidate proposed by the federal center.”

            According to Magomedov, the dismissal of Magomedsalam Magomedov had been expected for some time. There is “nothing super-natural” about the delay. It is probable that the Kremlin couldn’t process the papers in a timely fashion or was uncertain of what new position it would be offering the former Daghestani chief.

            Various Moscow commentators have offered “various versions for why Magomedalam was sent into [this honorary] retirement, but according to the “Chernovik” editor, the main reason is obvious: he had not fulfilled the obligations he had earlier taken upon himself and thus Daghestan remains extremely unsettled.

            The former Daghestani leader had not been able to improve the republic’s economy because he could not escape from the influence of three magnates there, despite the infusion of funds from the center, and had not been able to improve security, despite the introduction of additional Russian forces in recent months.

            According to the editor, one of the closest and most thoughtful observers of Daghestani developments, Abdulatipov’s “first-order task” will be to remove “all current ministers without exception” and to name new people from the outside.  “If Moscow gives Abdulatipov such authority, then he can really change something.” But that is an open question.

          And it is also an open question whether Abdulatipov or anyone in Makhachkala or Moscow can ensure that the North Caucasus will be sufficiently quiet ahead of the Sochi Olympics to eliminate concerns about security. Indeed, by making this issue so central, Putin is almost inviting the militants to do what they can to make sure that is not the case.

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