Monday, November 25, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Will Dividing Daghestan Administratively Save It or Destroy It?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 25 –Ranzan Abdulatipov, the head of Daghestan, announced last week his plan to divide his North Caucasus republic into four administrative districts headed by his own plenipotentiary representative, apparently on the model of what Russian President Vladimir Putin has done in the Russian Federation as a whole.

            But the impact of such a change – no date has yet been set for its introduction – in Daghestan is unclear, with some observers viewing it as an indication that Abdulatipov doesn’t trust the information he now gets, others saying it will help him defeat powerful ethno-criminal clans, and still others arguing it could threaten the territorial integrity of Daghestan.

            In any case, the utility of adding another layer of bureaucracy in a republic whose population is just over two percent of that of the Russian Federation – 2.9 million as compared to 143 million -- and whose territory is less than one third of one percent of that of the country as a whole -- 50,300 square kilometers compared to 17 million square kilometers – remains unclear.

            In an interview with today, Enver Kisriyev, a senior scholar at the Center for Civilizational and Regional Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, suggests that Abdulatipov clearly has taken this step because he does not trust the information he is getting but that he may not fully understand the risks involved (

            Kisriyyev says that he is concerned that whatever Abdulatipov intends, the Daghestani leader is introducing new intermediate “link” between Makhachkala, the districts, cities and auls, a move that in addition to multiplying bureaucracy carries with it two potentially serious consequences.

            On the one hand, the new “plenipotentiaries” will “stand ‘above’ the existing social-political interests” in their parts of the republic.  As a result, “there is a risk of a severe sharpening of relations between the regional authorities for access to resources and power,” something that could spark more violence.

            And on the other, Kisriiyev says, one must always remembers that “Daghestan and Daghestani society are not unitary formations but segmented ones.” They arose “historically, as a result of geographic, ethnic, religious and other factors. Dividing Daghestan into four territorial districts could be not the best way” to deal with things. Indeed, it could be among the worst.

            These four people could become “parallel centers of power,” “alternative capitals,” as it were, where “the organs of administration would be concentrated in a new vertical.” That would change power relations not only between the capital and the localities but among the latter and put local officials in “the line of fire.”

            Kisriyev concludes that Abdulitapov’s proposal is “absolutely unnecessary from a practical point of view” and that it “carries within itself threats to the internal stability of Daghestan.”  It recalls an earlier tsarist mistake when St. Petersburg ignored conditions in Daghestan and divided it into four “military districts.” 

            That move, the Academy of Sciences scholar says, “was dictated not by the interests of the peoples of Daghestan but exclusively by the goals of tsarist Russia.” And the situation is worse now because at present, Daghestan is divided into 42 districts and ten cities, many of which reflect ethnic divides as well.

            In an article published at the end of last week that did not specifically address Abdulatipov’s idea but provides a clear indication of just how dangerous such a change could be, Sergey Israilov, a Daghestani journalist and commentator, suggests that Abdulatipov and Moscow’s efforts to get that republic under control are failing, leading both to desperation.

            Israilov says that the republic and its current ethno-territorial divisions are so intertwined with the corruption there that has roots extending back more than half a century and now dominates almost everything that any tinkering with those divisions could more spark violence and even “destroy” the republic altogether (

            Redrawing borders, he suggests, could threaten the power of the clans and they could respond with violence, all the more so because “in fact, the Federal Center has already lost the battle for Daghestan to the militants.” Some 300,000 of the republic’s residents are on their side and against the government. “The base of extremist has grown in an extraordinary fashion.”

            What Moscow and Makachkala would like to do is to create new clans in place of those which they have or hope to “destroy” or at least negotiate with. To that end, Vladimir Putin recently called “Wahhabism” a “’normal religion.’’ But the Kremlin leader fails to see that Doku Umarov “still has not said that Putin is ‘a normal president’ and Russia ‘a normal country.’”

            “The Americans have already tried to have a dialogue with the Taliban in Afghanistan without prior conditions, but those efforts have been without any positive result,” Israilov says. “In just the same situation of despair, [Moscow] is today.  And therefore the republic can epect a further intensification of instability.”

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