Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Power Verticals in the North Caucasus, Absent and All Too Present

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 6 – The strengths and weaknesses of the power vertical system that Vladimir Putin established in Moscow and has pushed regional leaders to follow are on clear display in two North Caucasus republics, one (Daghestan) where experts say no power vertical exists, and another (Chechnya) which some say has a more effective one than Putin’s.

            Writing for, Sergey Markedonov, one of the most thoughtful commentators on ethnic issues in the Caucasus, describes the situation in Daghestan (, while queried four experts on Chechnya (

            Daghestan, Markedonov writes, “unlike Chechnya or Ingushetia,” does not have “a power vertical as that is traditionally understood.”  Consequently, its new leader, Ramazan Abdulatipov, who has made his career in Moscow rather than Makhachkala, will have greater freedom to make cadres changes because of his lack of ties to republic-level clans.

            But this very “freedom,” the analyst suggests, contains with itself certain “specific problems” given the nature of power in the North Caucasus’ most multi-national and Islamic republic. In addition to the obvious challenges of dealing with the “ethnic quota” system used to form government institutions, Abdulatipov faces “far more power” mayors.

            The heads of the three largest municipal governments, in Makhachkala, Khasavyurt and Derbent, are not creatures of the republic leadership as is the case in many other places; they have “their own resources of influence and even separate paths to various Kremlin ‘towers’” and so cannot be easily pushed aside.

            In addition, Markedonov continues, “one should not minimize the role and importance of ‘the Moscow Daghestanis,’ that is, the representatives of major business at the federal level like Suleyman Kerimov and Ziyavudin Magomedov.”  They too have “significant autonomy and serious influence on the processes in the republic.”

            Thus, any attempt to use “harsh administrative pressure” in Daghestan is likely to be “problematic” and could even backfire. But even more than that, the Russian analyst argues, it might do little to resolve “the systematic problems which exist in Daghestan,” problems that may not be amendable to resolution by any conceivable power vertical.

            Many of Daghestan’s problems reflect the impact of economic change, which has forced many people to leave their rural homes, sparking new conflicts over land, and move to Daghestani cities, which have their own problems, or to Russian ones, like Stavropol and Moscow, where they often encounter antagonism.

            Unless the government in Makhachkala, working in close touch with Moscow, can address these problems and ensure both the legal resolution of property disputes and personal security, Daghestanis “will turn for help not to the civil but to other authorities,” among whom are Islamist radicals.

            The power vertical alone won’t solve these problems, and “if these factors multiply in the absence of a quality nationality policy, then as a result, we will have the break of Daghestan from the rest of Russia, and also two-sided or even many-sided antagonism and xenophobia” with unpredictable consequences for the future.

            Because Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov recently told Vladimir Putin including that there had not been a single terrorist act in his republic in 2012 and that his economic system was “the most effective” of any region or republic in the country, queried four experts on that point.

            Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov, a political scientist who works as a journalist, responded that Chechnya does in fact stand out in comparison with other North Caucasus republics.  “One need only cross the administrative border between Chechnya and say Ingushetia or Daghestan, and everything becomes clear.”

            But it is quite another matter to say that Chechens are happy with the price they have had to pay for this “relative well-being.” Their main problems are not so much economic and political but psychological. They want more channels for self-realization and need the advantages of “social escalators” which do not now exist.

            Kadyrov has achieved a great deal, but “this is only the beginning of the path.” Chechnya needs “all-around development,” and that “will require not less but perhaps even more efforts, simply titanic ones” that he and Putin have made to this point.

            Maksim Shevchenko, a member of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights, answered more briefly. He said that Kadyrov was absolutely right, that he has conducted “a serious cadres policy” and that he has concentrated “financial resources in the needed directions.”  As a result, Chechnya now really is “an example to other republics.”

            Dmitry Orshkin, a senior specialist at the Moscow Institute of Geography, however, dismissed Kadyrov’s claims as nonsense. First of all, “there were terrorist acts in Chechnya” last year, whatever Kadyrov says.  Second, one can hardly call Chechnya an economic success story when Moscow s sending “about two billion dollars” to prop it up.  And third, Kadyrov hasn’t solved the problems of security and so no one wants to invest there.

            And finally Ruslan Kurbanov, a senior specialist at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, acknowledges that Kadyrov’s harsh measures have generally suppressed the militants. But he argues that it would be a mistake to assume such an approach will work elsewhere and particularly in multi-ethnic republics like Daghestan.

            And he too focuses on the problems of the rising generation of Chechens who want “a more open discussion on the problems which agitate them,” something Kadyrov with his power vertical has been unwilling to allow.  “There are talented Chechen lawyers and journalists (many in Moscow and many abroad) who would like their republic to become more open.” 

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