Dagestan’s Political Battle Intensifies as Supporters of Ousted Politician Protest

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 15 Issue: 9

Dagestan is the largest and currently the most dangerous republic in the North Caucasus due to its high levels of rebel violence. The republic, however, is also no stranger to peaceful protests and political struggle. On April 12, supporters of Said Amirov, the ousted mayor of Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, protested in the city’s center. The demonstrators carried, among other things, portraits of President Vladimir Putin, apparently hoping that the republican government would at least respect the Russian president. However, the 500 to 2,000 people who came out to protest were violently dispersed by the police (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPnSGN__UPg). The Makhachkala city administration, which had given permission for the demonstration, subsequently revoked it. Twenty-two people were detained after the protest, including a republican parliamentary deputy who has immunity from such police actions (https://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/241168/).

A special police squad arrested Said Amirov, one of the most influential politicians in Dagestan, in June 2013, when he was still mayor of Makhachkala. At the time, many observers hailed Amirov’s arrest, regarding it as a sign of Moscow’s determination to fight corruption in the republic. Dagestan’s president, Ramazan Abdulatipov, claimed he was not involved in the arrest of the powerful Makhachkala mayor, but many experts pointed out that Abdulatipov and Moscow were not prepared to tolerate another powerful politician in Dagestan. By dispatching Abdulatipov to Dagestan and eliminating all of his potential rivals, Moscow hoped to achieve the same level of top-down command as in Chechnya. However, as time went by, the Dagestani public became more disenchanted with Abdulatipov and political opposition to the republican leader strengthened. Abdulatipov’s attempts to emulate Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule in Chechnya have failed so far, primarily because of the presence of many political forces in Dagestan that resist strongman rule.

Instead of facilitating political dialogue in the republic, Dagestan’s leadership continued on the path of setting up in the republic a version of the Russian vertical of power. Needless to say, the state of human rights and the security situation in Dagestan has not improved much under Abdulatipov. On April 18, police carried out a massive operation at a mosque in the town of Shamkhal, located in Makhachkala’s suburbs, detaining about 50 individuals for no obvious reason. Local commentators said that the police operation took place against the backdrop of a nascent dialogue between different brands of Islam in the town (https://ndelo.ru/novosti-7/3093-na-puti-k-primireniyu-rejdy).

Some Muslims have voiced the need to establish Muslim parties in order to improve the situation in Dagestan. The leader of Dagestan’s Salafis, Abas Kebedov, lamented the authorities’ unwillingness to engage in dialogue. Both local and Russian officials agreed that dialogue was important, but in reality the law enforcement agencies reverted to confrontational tactics, Kebedov said in an interview with the Kavpolit.com website (https://kavpolit.com/articles/dialog_nado_vesti_so_vsemi_hot_s_samim_iblisom-3933/).

On May 1, at least five females wearing Muslim dress were detained in the city of Kaspiisk. After checking their documents and identities, the women were reportedly released (https://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/241933/). In a republic where Islamic traditions run strong, detaining females simply for their Muslim style of dress and crackdowns on Muslim communities that practice “non-traditional” Islam serve to heighten tensions.

The security situation in Dagestan is precarious and spillover effects can sometimes be seen in neighboring territories. On April 28, police reported killing two suspected militants in the Stavropol region’s Stepnovsky district. On April 30, the two suspects were identified as residents of Dagestan (https://www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/dagestan/1797183.html). On May 1, Russian authorities claimed they had killed a Tatar militant with ties to the Dagestani insurgency. The head of the group Mujahedeen of Tatarstan, 38-year-old Rais Mingaleyev, was killed along with an accomplice, 35-year-old Beslan Nazipov, in the city of Chistopol, Tatarstan. Mingaleyev established the militant group back in 2012, according to the authorities. Both militants were involved in the attack on Tatarstan’s two top official Muslim clergymen—the republic’s mufti, Ildus Faizov, and his deputy, Valiulla Yakupov, in July 2012 (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/241917/).

Dagestan itself remains a hotbed of insurgency, with regular police special operations against suspected insurgents. On April 26, police sealed off a house in the southern Dagestani city of Derbent. After killing three suspects, the police announced their identities—26-year-old Milan Kalusov, 37-year-old Jalal Gaziev and 43-year-old Arif Mamaliev. A fourth person killed in the operation, a woman, was not unidentified (https://chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/ustanovleny-lichnosti-boevikov-ubityh-v-specoperacii-v-derbente-sledstvie). On April 30, unknown assailants attacked and seriously wounded a police officer near his home in the village of Kasumkent in Dagestan’s Suleiman-Stalsky district (https://www.interfax-russia.ru/South/news.asp?id=496256&sec=1672).

After more than a year in power, Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov has largely failed to solidify political power in the same way other leaders in the North Caucasus have. Using more force in this diverse and complex republic has not resolved his security problems. It is likely that Abdulatipov could share the fate of his predecessors and soon fall out of favor with Moscow, and the Russian government will have to start in the republic from square one once again in its efforts to maintain control over the volatile North Caucasus republic.