Saturday, May 23, 2020

Moscow Loses One Lever in North Caucasus as Daghestanis Organize to Challenge Another

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – In addition to its deployment of military and police force, Moscow has two major levers to control the situation in the North Caucasus: the transfer of enormous sums of money to buy the loyalty of republic elites and the introduction of outsiders to run the region as imperial pro-consuls.

            But the first of these is beginning to shake given that the economic crisis means that the Russian government is no longer the primary investment driver in the North Caucasus, and the second is under attack in Daghestan where the appointment of outsiders and especially ethnic Russians has led to the current disaster.

            The Expert South Analytic Center reports that the number of major investment projects in the region fell from 110 in 2017 to 89 now, with the value of those investments declining from 810.4 billion rubles (11 billion US dollars) three years ago to 662.4 billion rubles (900 million US dollars) now (

            Private investment remained constant and now forms a larger share of the total than Russian government funds, thus depriving Moscow of the tool it used to win over or keep in line the elites in the North Caucasus republics.

            Meanwhile, another one of Moscow’s levers is now under attack. Given Makhachkala’s disastrous management of the pandemic, the republics ethnic-based clans, civil society organizations, and even the historically loyal Muslim spiritual directorate have joined in attacking the composition of the republic government (

            Many people in all three places are convinced that the fact that most of the senior officials in the republic are from somewhere else is the root of the problem. They don’t see themselves as defenders of the republic and its people, and some Daghestanis even speculate that such outsiders may not care if Daghestanis die from the pandemic.

            After all, in that event, this view holds, the outsiders will have fewer people causing them problems. The sense that this is the case is promoting new unity across the board in Daghestan with almost all social groups and political activists demanding that the republic leadership be changed and returned to the hands of the Daghestanis themselves.

            This puts Moscow generally and Vladimir Putin who has focused on Daghestan in particular in a very difficult position. If the Kremlin backs the current outsiders in the republic, the situation will likely get worse; if it doesn’t and agrees to change horses, people in other non-Russian republics across the region will likely come out to demand an end to outside rule.

            In any case, another once reliable lever for the center is no longer proving as effective as in the past. In fact, it may become not only a liability but an issue that will lead to the mobilization of non-Russians against imperial rule. 

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