Dagestan: New President, Old Problems

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 2

As was expected, Dagestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov has stepped down. Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree on January 28 ending Magomedov’s term, saying that the move was made “at his own request” (https://news.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/41d44198cf5a7ef1b14b.pdf). President Magomedov managed to stay in office for exactly three years (www.kp.ru/daily/26021.5/2942462/), which is very short for the North Caucasus. The situation in the republic was apparently so critical that Moscow could not afford for Dagestan to continue to be led by the local elites.

Although removed as Dagestan’s president, Magomedov was appointed to the position of deputy head of the Russian presidential administration (https://news.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/41d44198e009f18d5a25.pdf). According to the Russian president’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, Magomedov will oversee issues pertaining to inter-ethnic affairs (www.rosbalt.ru/main/2013/01/29/1087122.html).

It is entirely unclear why the Russian leadership decided that the Dagestani ex-president could serve the country in this particular capacity. Inter-ethnic affairs in Dagestan during the time Magomedov was in charge of the republic were hardly well-managed or devoid of problems. If we assume that the Kremlin was not happy with the situation in Dagestan and that is why it replaced Magomedov, then we can conclude that the ex-president of the republic will probably not receive any substantive powers in his position in Moscow (https://izvestia.ru/news/543855). Being responsible for the Caucasus region, Magomedov will have to deal with the leaders of the other North Caucasian republics, who will probably resent being ordered around by their former colleague. Magomedov’s appointment to a post in the Russian president’s administration must have been made with the idea of preventing a possible negative backlash from the Dargin side. This policy dates back to the Soviet period, when dismissed officials would receive a medal, as did the previous president of Dagestan, Mukhu Aliev, or a position in Moscow. The president of Ingushetia, Murad Zyazikov, was dismissed in 2008 and appointed as an aide to the Russian president (www.gazeta.ru/politics/2012/01/26_kz_3975341.shtml).

Another presidential decree signed on January 28 appointed Ramazan Abdulatipov as interim president of Dagestan (https://news.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/41d44198eb0089a01af9.pdf). This candidacy did not surprise analysts: indeed, he was among the most likely candidates for the position. However, the Dagestani clans that tied their future to Magomedov feared that Moscow would make this appointment (https://kavpolit.com/pravila-igry-po-abdulatipovski/). Abdulatipov began his career as the leader of Dagestan with a scandal. In an interview published on January 27, he stated that “yesterday, the order about my appointment was signed, it is a fact of life.” So it means that the decree about his appointment was signed on January 26, but it appeared on the website of the Russian president only two days later, on January 28. In the meantime, presidential spokesman Peskov was forced to deny Abdulatipov’s statement, saying that there was no decree appointing him (https://lenta.ru/articles/2013/01/28/dagestan/). Abdulatipov’s statement betrays certain personality characteristics, such as hastiness and loquacity. Ramazan Abdulatipov, who has a PhD, apparently did not know that Vladimir Putin does not issue “orders,” but, according to the constitution, issues “decrees.” These personal traits of Abdulatipov will likely result in all kinds of future public statements and declarations that will make the Kremlin uncomfortable.

The new leader of Dagestan is 67 years old and an ethnic Avar. Abdulatipov defended his doctoral dissertation, “Ethnic Relations in a Developed Socialist Society: Spiritual and Moral Issues of Operation and Development,” in 1985. In 1988, he joined the administrative apparatus of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee in Moscow. Abdulatipov was a federal minister in the post-Soviet Russian governments of Viktor Chernomyrdin and Yevgeny Primakov. In 2005–2009, Abdulatipov served as Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan. In 2009, he became the principal of the Moscow Institute for Culture and the Arts, where he was the subject of a scandal with students accusing him of incompetence (https://mir24.tv/news/society/6327430). As someone from the Soviet generation, the new Dagestani president is unlikely to generate highly innovative methods for improving the situation in the republic.

Ramazan Abdulatipov’s appointment will lead to the removal of everyone from the previous Dagestani government. The changes will also have an impact on the ethnic makeup of the government (www.novayagazeta.ru/news/62527.html). Since the republican presidency was transferred to Avars, now the ministries and government agencies will have to be reshuffled, as well. According to the new president, the ethnic quota system corresponds best to the realities of the republic (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219309/). So he reassured his audiences that he would not change the ethnic quota system in the republic that was formed back in the days of the Soviet Union.

What might Abdulatipov have offered the Kremlin for it to consider his candidacy? He was a politician at the federal level in Russia, but did not evince much activity in his home republic. Some observers suggested that Abdulatipov’s independence from the local corrupt clans should help him. But this argument is flawed since, in order to manage the republic, he will still have to seek the services of the local clans. Powerful Avar groups include the Gaji brothers, Abdullah Makhachev, Saigidpasha Umakhanov and others. Wealthy Lezgin groups, associated with the billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, and influential Dargin groups, with such leaders as Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, are also a factor (https://kavpolit.com/pravila-igry-po-abdulatipovski/).

Not being linked to Dagestan’s local clans in Dagestan is insufficient for Moscow to endorse the republic’s new leader. The Kremlin will expect tangible results from his work, especially with regard to the forces known as jihadists or the armed resistance movement. It is hard to imagine that Ramazan Abdulatipov will be able to come up with more suggestions than the previous president of Dagestan, who proposed a dialogue with the political wing of the jihadi movement, the Association Ahl al-Sunna. If the new president does not propose some new ways of dealing with the insurgency, it will mean that he is only an interim figure in the lead-up to the elections set for September 2013. If, however, the new leader starts proposing novel ways of dealing with the insurgency, it will translate to a long-term interest for the Kremlin in Abdulatipov’s presence in Dagestan. If the latter is the case, there will probably be no elections in Dagestan, as Moscow will eschew the rules and continue the practice of appointing the leaders of the republics of the North Caucasus instead of having them popularly elected. It should not take long for Moscow to clarify its plans for the region.