Against the backdrop of persistent tension in Dagestan, rumors are spreading in the republic that Ramazan Abdulatipov will be replaced sometime in May. Zakir Magomedov, a commentator with the Dagestani newspaper Novoe Delo, argued Dagestan’s present leadership is solving Dagestan’s problems but that replacing Abdulatipov will not fix them. “If anything needs to be developed in the republic, it is first of all the civil society,” he wrote. “Let people feel and understand that they possess the real power and that their prosperity and the future of the place where they live are in their own hands. But who needs this? In Dagestan, it is not the presidents that need to be changed, but the system of power that was formed at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise” (http://ndelo.ru/politika-5/3125-narod-bez-tsarya-v-golove).
As the Dagestani analyst noted, no politically relevant actor in the republic wants to strengthen civil society there. Even worse, the government actively opposes the formation of a civil society in Dagestan, as well as across the entire North Caucasus and beyond. The current regime in Moscow is evidently opposed to giving power to people, but in the North Caucasus, the Kremlin’s opposition to democratization is especially virulent. It is not incidental that the North Caucasian republics have, one by one, renounced the direct election of governors and adopted the procedure under which the Russian president appoints the governors. Moscow’s fear of separatism in the North Caucasus precludes it from granting the region even limited participatory political mechanisms.
The pro-Kremlin blog Odnako, led by the notorious Russian journalist Mikhail Leontyev, speculated at the very start of Abdulatipov’s appointment that he may be an interim figure who would help to transition Dagestan to a new type of leadership. According to the pro-Kremlin media, Abdulatipov’s task was to provide cover for Moscow’s special operations aimed at eliminating several powerful political figures in the republic. Doing so was “best carried out against the background of loud and often populist statements by Abdulatipov about the long-awaited cleansing and deliverance of Dagestanis from many years of servitude,” wrote analyst Bakhtiyar Akhmedkhanov. He predicted Abdulatipov would likely yield his position to “a hypothetical talented young manager who will work on the economy” of the republic. A source in the republican government also stated that Abdulatipov had at most one and a half to two years before he would be held accountable for the situation in Dagestan (http://www.odnako.org/blogs/noviy-prezident-dagestana-zachem-putinu-abdulatipov/).
The powerful mayor of Makhachkala, Said Amirov, was indeed detained by the Russian security services and forced out of office in June 2013. Some Dagestani oligarchs, including the Bilalov brothers, were forced into exile, while others were pressured in other ways (e.g., Suleiman Kerimov). Yet, the situation in Dagestan has not improved since Abdulatipov came to power in the republic at the start of 2013. In fact, the terrorist attacks in the Russian cities of Volgograd and Pyatigorsk in December 2013 were linked to the Dagestani insurgency, and the security situation inside the republic is also marked by unrelenting violence.
On May 7, police killed three men in Makhachkala. Police officials said the incident happened after police tried to stop a suspicious car and those in the car opened fire on the officers and were killed by return fire. The slain men were identified as 29-year-old Osman Aliev, 31-year-old Arslan Temirov and 23-year-old Batyr Amaev (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/242263/).
The website of Dagestan’s insurgents confirmed the death of three rebels, who had been living out in the open as ordinary citizens, not underground. The website alleged that the car with insurgents was attacked by the police without any warning, in accordance with the government forces’ tactic of killing suspects on the spot instead of arresting them. The website further asserted that a mole must have given away the location of the insurgents and that work was underway to uncover government agents within the rebel ranks (http://vdagestan.com/kafiry-iz-zasady-obstrelyali-avtomobil-v-shamilkale-byv-maxachkale-pali-shaxidami-insha-allag-3-mudzhaxida.djihad).
A bystander was hit by gunfire in the Makhachkala shootout and hospitalized in critical condition (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/242274/). The police apparently do not give much consideration to collateral damage among civilians and are prepared to stage shootouts in the busy streets of Makhachkala.
Also on May 7, the police killed a group of four rebels in the town of Semender in Makhachkala’s suburbs. Three of the slain men were identified as 24-year-old Magomed Amiraliev, 25-year-old Ali Mustafaev and 32-year-old Magomed Guseinov; the fourth rebel was still unidentified, according to a police source who spoke to Kavakazsky Uzel (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/242218/). The website of Dagestan’s insurgents identified the slain rebels as the “emir” of the unit, Magomed Guseinov, along with “mujahideen” Magomed Amiraliev, Abdu-Llah and Ali Mustafaev (http://vdagestan.com/xronika-boya-v-semendere.djihad).
Women are being killed in police operations with increasing frequency, which likely show that the trajectory along which the conflict in Dagestan is moving is quite negative. On May 5, police killed 25-year-old Ramazan Labazanov and his wife 42-year-old Raziyat Uzalaeva in the city of Khasavyurt. Some sources also reported that a third militant, Ibragim Dubaev, was killed in the same incident (ohranka.com, May 5).
Dagestanis continue to complain that people who disappear are later declared as having been killed in police special operations. The police tactic of killing off the suspects without due legal process allows the insurgents to declare: “Either you strike first at the foreign occupiers and their henchmen—forcing them to think not about how to kill another Muslim, but about how to save their own skin—or they might ‘find you at the scene of a special operation’ at any moment” (http://vdagestan.com/kafiry-rasstrelyali-poxishhennyx-musulman-i-otkryto-podbrosili-ix-tela-na-mesta-kto-v-derbente-i-nogajskoj-stepi.djihad).
Reshuffling Dagestan’s governors has yielded few positive results in this complex republic. Republican intellectuals increasingly understand that structural reforms and democratization are needed for progress. Russian policies in the region are evidence of its reluctance to solve Dagestan’s problems, relying instead on crude force and flashy political appointments and dismissals.