Dagestani President Chooses the Republic’s New Interior Minister

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 144

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev with Dagestan's new Interior Minister, Ali Magomedov.

Almost a month and a half after the assassination of Dagestan’s Interior Minister Police General Adilgerei Magomedtagirov on June 5, the federal government finally chose his replacement. The new minister is Federal Security Service (FSB) Colonel Ali Magomedov, a close associate of Dagestan’s President Mukhu Aliev who was appointed Secretary of the republic’s Security Council only a year ago (www.fednews.ru, July 24). Prior to his Security Council tenure, Magomedov served as advisor to President Aliev, and because for some time Magomedov was on the FSB’s reserves list, his appointments to positions outside of the law enforcement agencies were handled personally by the Dagestani president. By bringing Magomedov into the circle of his advisors, President Aliev hoped to ease the tensions in his relationship with the late General Magomedtagirov, who was fully beholden to the federal government and made no effort to find a common language with the local leadership.

The fact that the search for the new interior minister dragged on for a month and a half points to the apparent power struggles between the federal interior ministry and President Aliev, who was fighting to support his protégé. The fight ended in Aliev’s favor with the help of several factors. One of them is the fact that the current federal Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliev, also came out of the ranks of the FSB prior to his ministerial appointment, and this could have weighed in favor of appointing another FSB graduate to the interior minister position in Dagestan.

One of the first resolutions passed by Ali Magomedov when he was Secretary of Dagestan’s Security Council was to announce that the local efforts to prevent extremism and terrorism had been "unsatisfactory" (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 24, 2008) – an early strike against then Interior Minister Magomedtagirov that was nevertheless completely ignored by Moscow. While the disapproval of General Magomedtagirov voiced by Dagestan’s government officials occasionally gave analysts reason to theorize about his potential resignation, the federal center consistently turned a deaf ear to Makhachkala’s criticism of its appointee.

A native of Dagestan’s Gumbetovsky district and an ethnic Avar, Magomedov held a number of positions within the federal security structures from 1976 to 2008, earning the rank of colonel. His experience includes directing the FSB’s local unit in the city of Khasavyurt and serving as the deputy head of the FSB branch in Dagestan (www.korr.ru, July 17).

The new minister’s close relationship with President Aliev was brought up by Dagestan’s opposition weekly Chernovik ("The Rough Draft"), which noted that "as Security Council Secretary, Magomedov was often dispatched to the hottest spots as a negotiator. If the Council’s efforts turned out to be less than effective, it was because its resolutions were sabotaged by none other than then Minister Magomedtagirov" (www.chernovik.net, July 12).

At any rate, the new minister will have to face the same problems as his predecessor (www.document.kremlin.ru, July 16): most importantly, suppressing the armed resistance and the Shariah Jamaat specifically will be his top priority. During the late Magomedtagirov’s tenure, the jamaat strengthened its position and was successful in spreading its influence over the entire territory of Dagestan, from the Nogai steppe in the north to Azerbaijan in the south. The jamaat’s actions reverberate through Dagestan almost every day: Khasavyurt residents have gotten into a habit of saying that if a day passes without anything remarkable, two guerrilla actions should be expected the next day to make up for the missed day.

News agencies are reporting that the impact of Dagestan’s radical forces is no longer restricted by Dagestan’s borders. To cite one example, RIA Novosti reported on July 17 that the rebel fighters killed in a shootout with the government troops in Tajikistan included five Russian nationals, one of whom was a Dagestan native. However, three names from the list of slain men listed as residents of St. Petersburg appear to have Dagestani origins (www.vesti.kz/ru, July 17); that is, a multi-ethnic group of Russian nationals felt it was their duty to take part in the underground struggle against the government along with the Salafist organizations. It is also worth noting that the Salafi-inspired Islamic Resistance Party founded in Astrakhan in early 1991 was heavily influenced by Tajik and Dagestani leaders. It is not improbable that the party’s cells maintained their ties even after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Dagestan’s government, then, will have to make some choices regarding the tactics they will use in this conflict. For the local leadership, the mere suggestion of joint operations with Chechnya’s law enforcement agencies will feel like an insult, and even to consider that as a possibility will be highly unpleasant. In the meantime, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov expects that, as with Ingushetia, his forces will now be allowed to "sort out" Dagestan as well. Kadyrov made this clear in his interview with Izvestia published on July 7, in which he stated: "I would advise Mukhu Gimbatovich [Aliev], whom we respect very much, to take full control and start leading and sorting things out and gather the right people around him (and Dagestan has many of those). We are ready to help, we have some intelligence on Dagestan, but so far what we do not have is the agreement to cooperate with Dagestan’s government."

Dagestan’s government, meanwhile, understands very well that any such agreement would turn sentiment in the republic toward it into distrust. Kadyrov’s assurances that all his actions have the backing of the federal authorities will not gain him any support on the ground. Ingushetia’s example makes very clear that the local government, if it so wishes, is fully capable of boycotting decisions made unilaterally by the federal center.

As for Dagestan’s new interior minister, yet another serious obstacle for him will be the interior ministry’s institutional rejection of an outsider from the ranks of the FSB. In addition, he will have to deal with the widespread abuse of power by local officials – a problem not often encountered within his old environment at the FSB. Dagestani and Kabardinian police have a terrible reputation in the North Caucasus for being deeply mired in bribery and extortion on the roads. The residents of nearby Chechnya routinely complain about exorbitant fees that Dagestani police officers extract from everyone entering Dagestan from Chechnya.

Ultimately, the interior minister does not call the shots in Dagestan. His actions will always be limited by the constraints imposed by the federal center as well as the ambitions of the local government. Therefore, no radical changes in Dagestan should be expected in the near future.