Actions taken recently by the local leadership in Dagestan have become increasingly reminiscent of the policy carried out by Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Russian leader of Chechnya. Shortly after an all-Chechen congress was held in the Chechen capital of Grozny from October 13-14, the Dagestani authorities promptly started preparations for a congress of peoples of Dagestan. Similar to the practice in the former Soviet Union, the purpose of the event is to demonstrate the unanimous support for the leadership of the republic headed by Magomedsalam Magomedov. Although pre-staged well in advance, the congress would have enormous importance for the Dagestani leader, who has been openly criticized by the Kremlin for his ineptitude and indolence. This week, Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, once again issued harsh rebukes against the Dagestani leadership.
The Russian president asked his envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, to discuss the situation in the region’s law enforcement apparatus in order to see “what is already done; how work is going and [how] the individual leaders of territorial entities are handling their responsibilities.” Medvedev warned: “If there is someone who is not capable, he should not remain in his post and I will make the appropriate decisions” (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/1344169.html). This means that the Russian president has given the upper hand to Khloponin in the decision-making process by allowing him to decide who should be fired and who should be kept. Medvedev’s words seem to be a convenient endorsement for his envoy to the crucial North Caucasus Federal District, aimed at bolstering Khloponin’s status and prestige in the eyes of the local political elites who have been struggling to find ways of interacting directly with the country’s leadership by circumventing the president’s envoy (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1535400).
Medvedev also showed his displeasure at how the economic development of the North Caucasus was proceeding, and in this respect he once again singled out Dagestan in particular. “You are working slowly; everything should be carried out more actively,” the Russian president complained, clarifying that he meant local leaders as well (www.itar-tass.com/level2.html?NewsID=15661906). This is a black mark for the Dagestani boss, who took over the job less than a year ago but has had to hear critical remarks on TV from Medvedev for the second time in two months. And it is by no means surprising, since what has been happening in Dagestan over the past two-three years could hardly be called anything but a war (notwithstanding the efforts of the many experts who have been trying to avoid this term at all costs).
Every day there are reports from this part of Russia either of attacks on or bombings of law enforcement agents (the siloviki) or of regular special operations conducted within city boundaries or in the mountainous areas. The actions by suicide bombers (aka shahids) and the shooting of political leaders who criticize the Salafist current of Islam worry the top echelons of the country. For example, in just one week the following incidents were reported. On November 4, an unidentified explosive device was detonated near the natural gas distribution station in Dagestan’s Kizilyurt district. On November 5, a counterterrorism operation regime was introduced in the vicinity of the Dagestani town of Izberbash in which two Russian interior ministry internal troops’ servicemen were fatally wounded and another was hospitalized. On November 6, an alleged militant was liquidated by Russian law enforcement officers who tried to capture him in an operation on the outskirts of the city of Kaspiisk in eastern Dagestan. On November 7, a soldier was killed and six others wounded as the result of a grenade explosion in Dagestan’s Kayakensky district. The same night, the house of a member of the local council in the Khasavyurt district, Ibragim Ibragimov, was fired on. And on November 8, unidentified men attempted to bomb the car of a special services officer in Dagestan’s Kazbekovsky district.
In order to change the unfortunate dynamics for the Dagestani authorities, Magomedov decided to create local armed formations along the lines of the “North” and “South” battalions in Chechnya, which were formerly called “East” and “West.” But the Dagestani bosses face a dilemma. To establish functioning armed units, they need to take into account the ethnic diversity of their republic, which in effect would mean that every ethnicity might try to organize its own self-defense. Some experts argue that if this were the case, then newly emerged political actors might try to influence the course of events in Dagestan by using the military capacity of the very same armed units (https://fedinf.ru/component/content/article/23-2010-03-11-16-03-58/1004-2010-09-14-14-50-02).
In parallel, the Dagestani leader is offering amnesty to those rebels who decide to lay down their arms and come out of the forest. It cannot be denied that there have been a few instances of an insurgent leaving the forest. But when he does, he gives himself up to the authorities not so much because of an amnesty or because the government calls upon him to cooperate, but rather as the result of the involvement of his relatives, who sometimes manage to persuade him to surrender (www.rg.ru/2010/11/09/komissia.html). All in all, it would be futile to count on the appeals by the Dagestani leader, since he has very little if any support from the population and everyone realizes he cannot make decisions and take responsibilities the way Kadyrov does in Chechnya. For instance, on November 2, Magomedov signed a decree establishing a commission charged with facilitating the adaptation to peaceful life for those who decide to cease extremist and terrorist activities.
But even here the Dagestani leader could not do without surprises. Unbeknown to the members of the commission, he included several truly unexpected characters on it. Among them was the brother of Magomed Kabedov, who had masterminded the so-called Dagestan march in August 1999, had been the head of all Salafists in the North Caucasus at the time and had once declared the Islamic Republic of Dagestan. His brother, Abbas Kabedov, who has already spent a year in prison for illegally carrying a weapon –the article of the criminal code classically used by the Russian intelligence services to imprison any person they deem inappropriate– is a representative of a religious movement called Akhlsunna-va-Jamaa. This organization adheres to Salafism but, because of the total surveillance over its activity by the Russian intelligence services, feels compelled to call itself a missionary organization rather than a structure of the military wing of the rebel movement. Kabedov himself learned from the press about his appointment as a member of the commission, which means that everything was decided in a very narrow circle and no one bothered to apprise the appointees (see www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 6). Local analysts and experts already express doubts about the expediency of the commission.
No matter how hard he tries to emulate Kadyrov –who happens to enjoy the absolute trust of his protector, Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin– Magomedov will hardly have the results that the Chechen leader has had. The major setback for the head of Dagestan is that he has the support neither of Putin nor Medvedev –a situation that makes him extremely vulnerable in this game. Besides, multiethnic Dagestan is a more difficult case than monoethnic Chechnya. That is why the problems in Dagestan are so much more complex and multifaceted. Given the reaction of the authorities, it can be stated that solutions have not yet been found and there will likely be no cardinal changes in Dagestan in the near future.