Experts have warned that the Dagestani authorities are opting for more heavy-handed measures in their efforts to resolve security issues in the republic in contrast to the previous republican leadership. On July 16, a roundtable on the remaking of Dagestani politics after the appointment of Ramazan Abdulatipov as head of the republic was held in Moscow. According to Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, the head of the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Russia and a member of the council of the Memorial Human Rights Center, the head of Dagestan has achieved some positive results, as the republic’s government has made efforts to improve its financial situation and municipal governance. “People have started to hope that the situation in the republic will improve,” Sokiryanskaya said. At the same time, the chief of the ICG branch in Russia said that Abdulatipov had cut short the nascent dialogue between the adherents of various Islamic teachings in Dagestan. “The Commission for Adaptating Militants, which dealt with 46 people who had surrendered, was disbanded,” she said. “The Republican Peacemaking Commission was set up instead, but who the members of the new commission are and what its activities are is unclear.”
The Dagestani government under Abdulatipov has adopted the Chechen way of dealing with the insurgency, the ICG expert asserted. Another member of the ICG in Russia, Varvara Pakhomenko, demonstrated Sokiryanskaya’s words using the example of the village of Gimry in the Dagestani mountains. Pakhomenko stated that a counter-terrorism operation regime has been in place in Gimry for the past several months, and residents of the village have been subjected to numerous restrictions and collective punishment, such as a curfew and the destruction of houses of suspected rebels’ relatives (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/227182/).
Political violence in Dagestan is ostensibly colored in Islamic tones, so any changes in government policies in this regard are indeed likely to affect the security situation in this republic. Abdulatipov has shown little regard for Islam in Dagestan, apparently ignoring the importance of the religion there and trying to transform the political discourse into purely secular matters of economic development, the fight with corruption, improvements in governance and so on. In other words, the head of Dagestan has tried to implement a policy that could be described by the Biblical phrase “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” This approach potentially may have worked, if Caesar, i.e. the government machine, was up to the challenge. The problem, however, is that the government machine in Dagestan has questionable credentials despite Abdulatipov’s efforts to cleanse it of corruption. Moreover, the zeal of the government to push a new, “right” agenda onto the republican population is bound to backfire and, indeed, already is doing so.
On July 14 and 16, six police officers were killed in two separate clashes with insurgents in the mountainous Lak district of Dagestan (https://ria.ru/incidents/20130716/949980365.html). The police subsequently killed two suspected rebels in the same district (https://ria.ru/incidents/20130718/950474051.html). Alternative sources said that the police officers were killed on July 16 by “friendly fire” when the government launched a large-scale and poorly coordinated counterinsurgency operation in the previously quiet Lak and Kuli districts in the mountains in southern Dagestan (https://chernovik.net/content/novosti/porohovym-kleymom). On July 16, unidentified assailants killed a 62-year-old schoolteacher in the republic’s Tsumada district. The authorities said insurgent forces were the primary suspects in the attack (https://ria.ru/incidents/20130716/950073280.html). On July 9, the well-known Dagestani journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev was killed by unknown attackers. A number of other attacks have taken place in the republic, which does not bode well for the stability Abdulatipov promised.
The head of Dagestan already appears to have become exasperated and has started regarding the press as his adversary and a source of problems. On July 19, Abdulatipov lashed out at the independent newspaper Chernovik for misinterpreting his words and threatened to shut it down. Abdulatipov further demanded that the security services and police step up background checks of Dagestanis who apply for foreign passports. Since many Dagestanis reportedly joined the insurgents in Syria, the head of Dagestan proposed that this flow should be stopped. He demanded that district administrations compile lists of insurgents, wealthy individuals and so on (https://www.riadagestan.ru/news/president/glava_dagestana_obshchestvu_i_vlasti_nuzhno_byt_bolee_printsipialnymi/).
Abdulatipov’s concerns are understandable, but it seems he is putting forward little apart from administrative restrictions to alleviate them. Many of the measures the head of Dagestan is proposing strikingly resemble Soviet-era methods—something that betrays the Soviet totalitarian background of the leader of Dagestan. Earlier, at a government meeting on July 14, Abdulatipov demanded from the police and security services that they check out heads of districts and villages that tolerate militants in their areas and fire them. Those who sympathize with the rebels should be “isolated from the society,” Abdulatipov said (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/227101/).
On July 16, Vladimir Cherniy was appointed the new head of the National Bank of Dagestan. Nothing appears to be known about Cherniy apart from that he was a “military banker” in the Russian Central Bank system (https://www.vedomosti.ru/finance/news/14358361/bankovskij-komendant-dagestana). In plain English, this means that Cherniy is most likely a Russian security services officer with little or no prior financial management expertise. At the same time, a spree of closures of private Dagestani banks has transpired in the republic as the government reportedly cracks down on money laundering schemes. This campaign, however justified it may seem, is obviously not going to create new supporters for Abdulatipov among the Dagestani elites.
Abdulatipov’s actions are likely to antagonize increasingly diverse and large circles of Dagestani elites and, eventually, the general population. Abdulatipov’s energetic but unbalanced leadership of Dagestan is instructive for the other republics of the North Caucasus because it shows that even the best-intentioned leaders will face an uphill battle if Moscow is the only support base they have.