The most recent spike of violence in Dagestan, which started in September, culminated on October 1–2, when intense fighting between government forces and rebels in the wooded area between the villages of Verkhnee Ubeki and Nizhnee Ubeki in the republic’s Levashi district left ten people dead, including three civilian police aides, three police officers and four rebels. Another four police officers were injured in the clash (https://azbar.ru/novosti/proisshestvia/10-pogibshih-v-rezul-tate-kto-v-levashinskom-rajone.html). Apart from the large number of casualties in the special operation, it had another noteworthy feature—the participation of civilian police helpers. Dagestan’s leadership paid particular attention to the victims of the special operation, promising material assistance to their families. At the same time, Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov asked the civilian population to refrain from taking up arms to fight the insurgents, in order to avoid future casualties (https://ria.ru/society/20131002/967279596.html).
Despite formally disapproving of civilian participation in police operations, the current Dagestani government appears intent on expanding the use of Dagestani civilians to quell the insurgency movement. During a public meeting in the rebellious village of Gimry this past August, Abdulatipov urged the villagers to turn in rebels and join the police in fighting the insurgents. The Dagestani head stressed that the villagers themselves had to deal with the rebels (https://www.riadagestan.ru/news/president/ramazan_abdulatipov_gimry_eto_obshchedagestanskoe_dostoyanie/). The latest incident in Levashi district shows that the government is trying to implement the new operational code by drawing police aides from among the civilians. Civilian deaths will fuel the civil conflict, pitting one part of the population against another. In such a situation, the government apparently hopes it will have a better chance of establishing itself as an “impartial” arbiter and ruler.
Meanwhile, glaring corruption in the Dagestani police was brought to light at the start of October, when the head of the district police in Kizilyurt, Aliaskhab Zairbekov, was suspended from this position. Three police officers, subordinates of Zairbekov, are being investigated for involvement in a series of robberies of businesses in Dagestan. The gang of police officers reportedly extracted about $3 million in these raids, while the media portrayed the robberies as attacks by insurgents. Zairbekov was also known for organizing an anonymous vigilante group of “Robin Hoods” who vowed to kill insurgents and their relatives without due legal process. Even though the group was anonymous, most people recognized the authors of its video, which was posted on YouTube in 2012 and later reiterated virtually verbatim by Zairbekov (https://chernovik.net/content/novosti/robin-gudbay).
On September 30, scores of Russian security service personnel descended on the Dagestani branch of the Russian State Pension Fund. The building, with hundreds of employees inside, was sealed off and searched. According to most observers, the operation was aimed at the head of the republican pension fund branch, Sagid Murtazaliev, a charismatic and influential 39-year-old Dagestani politician. The operation was carried out in a way similar to the ousting of the powerful mayor of Makhachkala, Said Amirov, in June 2013. However, after confiscating some materials of interest, the security forces surprisingly withdrew from the pension fund offices without arresting its head.
After the security personnel stormed the building, Murtazaliev’s followers reportedly started gathering in Makhachkala (https://chernovik.net/content/politika/ne-po-silovomu). The government may have backed down after seeing the level of support Murtazaliev has in Dagestan. Alternatively, the search may have been a warning to the head of the pension fund, aimed at convincing him to step down. Some observers even suggested that the search reflected Moscow’s growing impatience with Ramazan Abdulatipov, as Murtazaliev is thought to be on good terms with the Dagestani president. Murtazaliev was reportedly contending for the key position of Makhachkala mayor and Moscow thought he needed to be convinced otherwise (https://budunaliev.livejournal.com/884.html).
Abdulatipov’s promises to bring reforms and economic prosperity to Dagestan have coincided with declining financial contributions from Moscow. So the initial grand plans for increasing the republic’s economic growth rate to double digit numbers have quietly been dropped. The government is still setting up its Corporation for Development of Dagestan. However, Moscow’s allotted resources fell short of expectations in Dagestan, so economic growth in the republic is likely to lag behind the Russian average for the next 25 years, according to some estimates (https://www.ndelo.ru/ekonomika-2/2008-s-ryvkom-poka-reshili-povremenit).
The Russian government’s vacillating attitude toward replicating its Chechen policy in Dagestan, the largest and most ethnically diverse republic of the North Caucasus, is likely to backfire. On the one hand, Moscow would like to have someone like Ramzan Kadyrov in Dagestan, who could control the republic with an iron fist. On the other hand, Moscow does not want to establish too strong a leader in Dagestan, as it did in Chechnya. Abdulatipov has complained about his inability to influence federally appointed agencies, which outnumber republican agencies (https://rus.ruvr.ru/2013_10_03/Ramazan-Abdulatipov-Mne-vipala-sudba-podnimat-respubliku-s-poslednego-mesta-v-strane-4532/). The combination of contradictory policies in Dagestan is already causing a spike in violence in the republic, evidently induced by the local government’s actions. As the promises of economic recovery in Dagestan seem to fade away, the situation there may become even more unfavorable.