More than a month has passed since the Kremlin appointed a new leader for Dagestan, the largest republic in the North Caucasus. On February 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin put 65-year-old Mukhu Aliev at the helm of the North Caucasus republic and Dagestan’s legislature readily confirmed the choice for president.
Many observers in Russia favored the appointment. Some even called the decision to appoint Aliev “a rare example of the right decision of the Kremlin in its North Caucasian policy.” The observers expressed hopes that Aliev, a long-time Communist party boss and an experienced administrator, would improve the Dagestani economy, fight corruption, and repel the growing local insurgency. In particular, Moscow regards Aliev as a figure who can oppose the mighty clan of Magomedali Magomedov, Aliev’s predecessor, who had ruled Dagestan for 14 years (see EDM, February 23).
However, after one month in office, doubts began to appear regarding his ability to change the deteriorating situation. Apparently the insurgency ignored the leadership change and kept to their plans to launch a spring campaign. On February 24 a police patrol was attacked in the town of Khasavyurt. Then on March 10, Magomed Magomedov, deputy head of the republican Criminal Investigation Department, was killed in Makhachkala, the republican capital, by a bomb planted underneath his car. Two days later, March 12, a senior officer from the Organized Crime Department was shot dead in Makhachkala, and another was killed on March 21 in the town of Buinaksk. On March 29, two policemen were wounded in a shoot-out with rebels in the capital.
As reported earlier, on March 2 during a security sweep of several villages in Khasavyurt district, Russian troops desecrated a Koran, the holy book of all Muslims. This incident only added fuel to the fire (see EDM, March 23).
In addition to the standoff between militancy and security officials, Dagestan was also hit by waves of criminal violence and unrest this March. On March 20, the family of a businessman was killed in the capital. There were three brazen robberies in Dagestan during the last two months, including two attacks on pension delivery vehicles in Khasavyurt and Makhachkala, and one robbery of a pension payment office in the village of Baba-Urt (Kavkazky Uzel, March 22).
On March 20, residents from the village of Korkmaskala, in Kyimtorkalin district, tried to storm a local office building to protest what they considered to be an unfair land distribution scheme. The police special-task unit guarding the building opened fire, and 20 people were injured. Shamil Zainalov, the new prime minister of Dagestan, had to go to the area to personally resolve the conflict (Interfax, March 20).
There were also two attacks on district administration heads. On March 10, there was an assassination attempt on the head of the administration of Magarmakent district (regions.ru, March 10). On March 22, gunmen shot dead Ruslan Aliev, head of the mountainous Botlikh district, who was returning home after a meeting with President Aliev and other Dagestani district chiefs. Ruslan Aliyev’s vehicle was struck by gunfire in the center of Makhachkala, on the city’s most guarded street (Kavkazky Uzel, March 22).
Despite the rapidly increasing rebel attacks, unrest, and criminal violence, there were still some hopes that the new leader of Dagestan could at least partly succeed with economic and political reforms. Aliev’s first changes within the republican government generated a belief that he might indeed be able to shake up the political structure of Dagestan, which has been completely based on clan connections and bribery. The most odious figures in the government, like Umalat Nasrutdinov, the minister of agriculture, and Marat Ilyasov, the minister of economy, both of whom became ministers thanks to family ties, were replaced (Kavkazky Uzel, March 10).
Nevertheless, the most powerful clans in Dagestan, that of former president Magomedali Magomedov and Makhachkala mayor Said Amirov, have not relinquished their positions yet. On the same day that Aliev was appointed, Magomed-Salam Magomedov, son of Magomedali, became chairman of the republican parliament. With the help of his farther, Magomed-Salam had become one of the richest and most powerful tycoons in Dagestan. A member of the Board of Elbin-Bank and a member of the Working Group for Offshore Oil Resources of the Dagestani Sector of the Caspian Sea, Magomed-Salam is also the unofficial owner of many local businesses and real estate. The position of parliamentarian leader will help Magomedov’s family to legalize their control over the republican economy. There are rumors circulating in Dagestan that next year Magomedov Jr. might claim the post of prime minister of Dagestan.
Said Amirov, an old rival of Magomedov and the deeply entrenched mayor of Makhachkala, also remains a strong and independent political figure in the region. On March 13, Amirov was elected mayor for the third time in elections that independent observers described as fraudulent (Kavkazky Uzel, March 13).
So far the new leadership in Dagestan has not successfully implemented any of the tasks that the Russian authorities had entrusted to it. The clans remain strong while the chaos and violence in the region continues.