Municipal elections in Dagestan on October 10 were marred by violence and fraud. In the republic’s Levashi district, the head of the village of Khadzhalmakhi, Abdulmuslim Nurmagomedov, died during a massive fight in which several other people were injured and taken to the hospital. The fighting broke out after 4,500 ballots were stolen (RIA Novosti, October 10). The Levashi district is situated in the heart of Dagestan’s mountains and has a certain political importance given that the two ruling clans which have largely controlled the republic and its capital Makhachkala for a long time hail from this district.
Dagestan remains probably one of the few Russian regions in which local elections still matter to people and evoke significant flare-ups of tension. Earlier, on October 3, an aide to one of the deputy candidates for a local council, Mankuli Lamazov, was severely beaten, reportedly by political opponents (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 3).
Russia’s lawmakers set aside two days each year for electoral purposes: one day in the spring and one in the autumn. This autumn’s elections in Dagestan were preceded by steep rise of violence. Just in the period from the start of September to the Election Day on October 10 at least 25 policemen, officials and their relatives were killed in attacks, while an estimated 44 actual and suspected insurgents were killed by government forces (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 10). The destabilization took place despite Moscow’s strenuous efforts to contain it. On September 28, it was officially announced that additional troops from the Russian Interior Ministry had been deployed in Dagestan and the security services divided the republic into five responsibility zones. Six thousand policemen were put on high alert shortly before day of the elections to facilitate safe voting in the republic (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 8).
The chairman of the Russia’s Central Election Committee, Vladimir Churov, spent this Election Day in the southern Dagestani city of Derbent. On Election Day in October 2009, Derbent hit the headlines when the city and republican authorities refused to open the voting stations, in an effort to avoid losing the elections. Massive electoral fraud eventually led to mass protests and the dismissal of Derbent’s mayor, Felix Kaziakhmedov, and the provisional appointment of his opponent, Imam Yaraliev, to replace him. Kaziakhmedov was allegedly backed by the government in Makhachkala and personally by the then president of Dagestan, Mukhu Aliev, while Yaraliev was tacitly supported by Suleiman Kerimov, a Lezgin billionaire based in Moscow. Both Kaziakhmedov and Yaraliev were members of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia. This shows once again that United Russia in Dagestan is an umbrella organization, hosting many different forces, including extremely divergent ones.
Makhachkala’s powerful mayor, Said Amirov, is expected to retain his seat following this election. He has held his present position since 1998. Amirov is an ethnic Dargin, the same as the current head of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, while Dargins are only the second largest ethnic group in Dagestan, behind the Avars. The ethnic balance in Dagestan’s political circles is a constantly contested issue, which helps to a degree to hold together the republic’s convoluted matrix of ethnicities and sectarians.
Meanwhile, Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, sensationally admitted in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio that the Russian security services were losing five to six people on average every day in the battle with the insurgents in the North Caucasus. Bastrykin dubbed the situation in the region “almost a war” and urged the government to come up with an ideological solution to combat Islamists in the North Caucasus. The head of the Investigative Committee expressed skepticism about relying solely on economic measures to stabilize the region. Apart from Dagestan, Bastrykin included Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria on the list of the most unstable republics (Ekho Moskvy radio, October 9).
On October 9, three charred corpses were found in a burned-out car in Karabudakhkent district of Dagestan –most likely casualties of the ongoing fight between government forces and the rebels (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 9). Several recent reports from Dagestan and Ingushetia suggest that the Russian security services may have reverted to the tactic of snatching rebel suspects and pretending afterwards that they were killed in a combat operation. Thus the government forces apparently still depend on heavy-handed tactics in fighting the insurgency, even though Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, is trying to promote the economic development of the region as a means of quelling the armed underground movement.
As violence spreads across the North Caucasus, becoming both more frequent and more widespread, Moscow is offering few remedies to contain it. The ten months since the appointment of Khloponin as head of the North Caucasus Federal District have not brought clear prospects of the troubled region’s economic revival. The security services managed to kill and capture several important figures in the insurgency, but these successes appear to have had little or no discernible impact on the security situation. In fact, the situation drastically deteriorated in Kabardino-Balkaria after the rebel “emir” in the republic, Anzor Astemirov, was killed by the police on March 24, while waves of suicide attacks swept across the North Caucasus.
Given these conditions, the North Caucasus issue is likely to return to national politics in Russia in the run up to the elections in 2011-2012. This might be beneficial to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin if he decides to run again for the Russian presidency, given that he used the technique of ascending to political power through fighting rebels to win his first presidential term in 2000.