Thursday, June 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow at a Chechnya-Style Crossroads in Daghestan, ICG Leader Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 6 – The arrest of the mayor of Makhachkala means that Moscow is at a crossroads in Daghestan, according to the head of the Russian office of the International Crisis Group. If it follows this arrest up with others, Ekaterina Sokryanskaya says, it will produce temporary instability; if it doesn’t, the decay of the state there is likely to prove irreversible.

In this, Sokryanskaya argues in an interview to, the Russian authorities face a situation resembling that in Chechnya a decade ago, but she suggests that the differences between Chechnya and Daghestan mean that is far from clear which choice Moscow can and will make (

Last Saturday, Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov was arrested and transferred to Moscow to stand trial for the murder of an investigator. As Sokryanskaya points out, “Amirov was too major a figure” for Daghestani officials to deal with on their own: he had too many ties with various groups in the population.

Moreover, the force structures of Daghestan are not entirely under the control of republic head Ramazan Abdulatipov, and even if he had succeeded in arresting Amirov, he might not have been able to hold him. Indeed, Amirov’s influence might have made that impossible even elsewhere in the North Caucasus Federal District.

 The ICG expert notes that “Amirov is an empire, an enormous clan who controls almost a million-person city.  People loyal to him control practically all key positions. [And] for a large number of the citizens, Amirov is a guarantee of security and well-being.” That explains the protests on his behalf and why his removal represents a critical moment in the life of Daghestan.

In many ways, Sokryanskaya continues, Abdulatipov has “great political support” from Vladimir Putin. “But he is still not entirely a Daghestani politician,” given that he hasn’t lived and worked in that North Caucasus republic for “almost twenty years.”  But Amirov is someone who has and who has developed the clientele that is the basis of real power.

Like all new leaders in the North Caucasus, Abdulatipov promised to fight corruption. But people in Daghestan have heard such “beautiful speeches” before without anything happening. Now with the arrest of Amirov, there is a chance that something may actually be done in that regard.

Sokryanskaya says that she was “very surprised” that this happened “before the Olympiad” given how strong the clan system is in Daghestan. “To begin its destruction less than a year before the games is a risky step” -- especially in combination with the simultaneous removal of an MVD official in Karachayevo-Cherkesia.

Apparently, she says, the Kremlin appointed Abdulatipov in order to “normalize” the situation in Daghestan on the basis of a plan first applied in Chechnya.  When Putin came to power, “Chechnya was controlled by several pro-federal force groups, each of which acted on a definite territory.”

The Kadyrov group was the largest, but there were also the Yamadayev brothers, MagomedKakiyev, and Movladi Baysarov. Moscow placed its bet on the Kadyrov group, and the others were “gradually liquidated, the majority of their leaders physically.”  That allowed Kadyrov to establish “total control over the republic.”

Today in Daghestan, there are also “several centers of gravity with great political weight, economic resources, and influence.” But in contrast to Chechnya, these are led not by military figures but by “respectable politicians in expensive suits, ‘strongmen,’ and leaders of clans, which however also control territories almost like feudal princes.”

The arrest of Amirov suggests that Abdulatipov has been sent to “cleanse Daghestan from the clan system,” although Sokryanskaya expressed the hope that “he will not seek to repeat the model of Chechnya and will not attempt to create the same kind of regime of harsh personal power” that Kadyrov has.  “In Daghestan, that won’t work.”

That is why this arrest is a crossroads, she notes. But if nothing follows the arrest of Amirov, then “residents of Daghestan will conclude that this is not a struggle with corruption but a settling of accounts.” Nothing will change, and “Daghestan will continue to degrade and young people will go into the forests because they won’t believe the criminal and privatized state.”

The arrest of Amirov boosts Abdulatipov, Sokryanskaya says, even if it causes some short-term instability, but if the republic head does not follow up with the dismissal and arrest of others, “the destabilization” of Daghestan will continue for a long time to come. And “the process of the degradation of the state in the republic will become ever more irreversible.”

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