An Assessment of Events in Dagestan in 2010: The Year in Review

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 12 Issue: 1

Dagestan made the greatest contribution to the general trend of destabilization in the North Caucasus in 2010. Out of 178 deaths in terror attacks in the North Caucasus and Moscow in 2010, 68 occurred in or originated from Dagestan (38 percent). A total of 112 terrorist attacks, including 5 suicide explosions, took place in Dagestan in 2010. In addition, the two blasts in the Moscow metro that shook Russia on March 29 were widely attributed to Dagestani insurgents (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 7, 2011). Following the attack on the Baksan hydroelectric power plant in Kabardino-Balkaria on July 21, the Irganai hydroelectric plant in Dagestan was attacked on September 7. The Irganai plant’s owner, the Russian monopoly Rusgidro, promised to repair and re-launch the plant sometime in 2011 (www.riadagestan.ru, December 8, 2010).

As a result of intensive fighting, the Islamism-driven insurgency in Dagestan suffered substantial losses, with three of its leaders killed over the last year or so. Umalat Magomedov from the northern Dagestani town of Khasavyurt was killed on December 31, 2009. His wife Dzhannet Abdurakhmanova was, according to official information, one of the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up on the Moscow metro in March 2010. Ibragim Gadzhidadaev, from Dagestan’s mountainous Untsukul district, was killed on July 15, 2010. Finally, Magomedali Vagabov of Gubden, which is also a town in the mountains of Dagestan, was killed on August 21. Vagabov’s wife Mariam Sharipova was named as the second suicide bomber in the March 2010 Moscow metro bombings.

Israpil Velidzhanov, aka Emir Khasan, is believed to have assumed the leadership of the Dagestani insurgency’s leadership in August 2010. Velidzhanov, an ethnic Dargin, comes from Derbent in the southern part of Dagestan. That region is commonly referred to as “Yuzhdag” and has distinct cultural differences from the rest of the republic. Perhaps because of Velidzhanov’s ascension to power, Derbent, which had been relatively quiet in the past, experienced a surge in attacks in 2010.

On February 10, Magomedsalam Magomedov was confirmed as Dagestan’s new president. His predecessor, Mukhu Aliev, an ethnic Avar, was not allowed to stand for the usual second term that most North Caucasian leaders serve (www.prime-tass.ru, February 10, 2010). This pointed to the fact that officials in the Kremlin were apparently unhappy with Aliev’s conduct, presumably because of his reluctance to crack down harshly on the growing insurgency. It is worthy to mention that Aliev often spoke of the unacceptability of using crude force against the insurgency and appears to have been viewed by some in the Kremlin as being stubborn and undiplomatic. By comparison, even Kabardino-Balkaria’s President, Arsen Kanokov, was able to keep his post, despite the fact that his republic suddenly became one of the hottest spots in the North Caucasus in 2010.  

In 2010 both Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, and Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, paid unprecedented attention to the North Caucasus in general and Dagestan in particular. On December 1, Putin appointed himself the chairman of the government commission on development of the North Caucasus. President Medvedev met the leader of Dagestan at least on four separate occasions and chaired two government meetings on Dagestan and the North Caucasus. Prime Minister Putin chaired at least four government meetings on Dagestan and the North Caucasus and met the republican leader twice in 2010.

2010 also saw the emergence of a new family succession as Magomedsalam Magomedov was appointed head of the beleaguered republic.  To observers of affairs in Dagestan the Magomedov family is a familiar one. Magomedov is an ethnic Dargin, and the son of Magomedali Magomedov, the long time Dagestani leader and master of political intrigue who headed the republic from 1994-2006, prior to Mukhu Aliev. By comparison to Aliev, the new government of Magomedsalam Magomedov has taken a much more proactive approach to fighting the Dagestani insurgency or, alternatively, yielded to pressure from Moscow to deploy more forces and act more vigorously against the insurgents than his predecessor. On July 23, 2010, Dagestan’s Vice-Prime Minister, Rizvan Kurbanov, communicated an ultimatum to the insurgents through the republican media: they were given the choice either to surrender or suffer the consequences. Kurbanov stated that the government would “eliminate the supporters of the militants along with the militant themselves,” adding, “within the legal framework, but without any mercy.” From the statement, it also followed that the government had previously attempted – unsuccessfully – to approach the insurgents to make a deal (RIA Novosti, July 23, 2010).

In September 2010, Dagestan experienced a surge of Russian military forces that led some local observers to believe Moscow would impose a counterinsurgency regime across the republic (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 1, 2010). From September 2010 until the present, the pattern of military actions against terrorist suspects significantly changed in Dagestan. The military started to kill suspects in strikingly large groups of up to 10 people at one time. All of those killed are automatically written off as Islamic militants, but there is little information available about who they really are. On November 14, it was announced that the first 300-man battalion to fight the insurgents in the republic had been formed. Eventually there should be 700 interior ministry troops drafted from Dagestan who will be poised to prop up the local police in the republic. Moscow drew on the example of Chechnya where, in a similar fashion, the Sever and Yug battalions were created by the Kadyrov regime. This is just another indication of how unpredictable the situation in Dagestan has become (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 14, 2010).

On December 15, 2010, the government used a large conference in Makhachkala as a tribune to reach out to the insurgents once again to talk them into surrendering (www.riadagestan.ru, December 15). The insurgent leaders, in video addresses, repeatedly turned down such proposals and promised to retaliate for their slain comrades (www.rferl.org, January 6, 2011).

Despite largely failing to improve the security situation in Dagestan, its leadership was successful in lobbying Moscow in regard to appointments to the top positions in the republic. A carefully selected military judge, Vladimir Danilov, was appointed to the position of the chairman of Dagestani Supreme Court, but he unexpectedly quit his post, allegedly under pressure from the region’s leadership, and left the republic in October 2010. Dagestan has been without a Supreme Court chairman since December 2009 (Kommersant, November 2, 2010).

In 2010, 75 percent of Dagestan’s budget was financed by direct cash injections from Moscow. This was less in comparison to 2009, when the number was 82 percent. However, the trend was not caused by a drastic improvement of the Dagestani economy, but rather the fact that Moscow simply cut the subsidies from $1.5 billion in 2009 to $1.1 billion in 2010, while Dagestan’s own revenues increased by  a modest $90 million in the same period (http://openbudget.karelia.ru/budnord/russian/north-caucasian/dagestan-republic/resp_dagestan.htm, accessed on January 7, 2011).

In August 2010, President Medvedev openly rebuked the Dagestani leader for failing to make any significant progress in the economic development of the republic. Magomedov, in his turn, complained about instability and fighting preventing new investment into the republican economy (Kommersant, August 12, 2010). Meanwhile, the Dagestani weekly Novoe Delo conducted an online poll in July 2010, in which 91.4 percent of the respondents said corruption was more harmful to the republic than extremism, which received only 8.6 percent votes (http://www.ndelo..ru/voting_archive.php?page=2). In November 2010, the same paper conducted another online poll that showed 80.6 percent of respondents disapproved of the current Dagestani authorities’ policies, while 19.4 percent approved of them (http://www.ndelo.ru/survey.php?qid=271&r=0.19475362145586483).    

According to the prominent Dagestani sociologist Enver Kisriev, Dagestan in 2000 had one of the highest income inequality rates in the Russian Federation. Kisriev wrote that approximately 1,000 Dagestani families “own huge wealth and define the system of internal political relations in the republic.” Another 5-7 percent of the people serve as the elites’ supporters, for which they are paid. An additional 20-25 percent of the population, making enormous efforts, earn 2-5 times of the living minimum. Seventy percent of the population lives in poverty (http://www.memoid.ru/node/Terrorizm_v_sovremennom_Dagestane#cite_note-kisriev.ca-c-12). Dagestan in 2010 had the lowest ratio of average salary to the minimum set of goods and services in comparison to other North Caucasian republics. The average salary in Dagestan exceeded the minimum only by one-third (http://www.minregion.ru/north_caucasian/dagestan/).

The government in Dagestan seems simply unable to tackle the situation in the republic as the level of violence increases, the economy continues to show little if any improvement as the Kremlin’s ability to inject more money in the republic declines.