During a visit to Dagestan on September 21, Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, urged the republican leadership to use the opportunities that had been provided by the federal authorities to make advances in economic development. “The time when it was possible to go around with an extended hand is over,” Khloponin told the Dagestani government, adding “Dagestan has maximum competitive advantages for economic development. The amount of investment into your republic and government guarantees for attracting credit resources is unprecedented” (www.riadagestan.ru, September 21).
The economic situation in Dagestan, in Khloponin’s opinion, is manifestly dire. Of the estimated 1.7 million Dagestanis of working age, only 1.1 million are employed. Thousands of Dagestanis migrate temporarily from the mountainous areas to the plains to secure pastures for their cattle. According to Moscow’s envoy, over 40 percent of Dagestan’s population works in the government sector. “This means that the economy is absent in Dagestan,” Khloponin gravely concluded. Moscow’s envoy suggested that the energy field was still very underdeveloped in the republic and demanded the government make greater efforts to compete for federal funds allotted for the North Caucasus (www.riadagestan.ru, September 21).
Ruslan Kurbanov, a Dagestani academic and member of the Russian Public Chamber’s group on the Caucasus, stated on September 13 that Dagestan is approaching a state of civil war. In particular, Kurbanov referred to the intensity of the killings of police and insurgents as well as the exasperation it is causing on both sides. “There is no family that has not been affected by this trouble [the conflict between the government and the Islamic insurgents],” Kurbanov said, adding “Bloody Moloch drew each of us into this fratricidal bloodbath –either through a relative or a friend.” Enver Kisriev, the head of the Caucasus department at the Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes the conflict in Dagestan has essentially socio-economic roots. According to Kisriev, people in Dagestan automatically become enemies of the government if they become ideological dissenters. Moreover, the government in Dagestan does not maintain neutrality when it comes to settling even purely religious issues (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 13).
On September 12 alone, 13 suspected insurgents were killed in Dagestan. On the same day, two members of the security forces, the head of a village administration and the regional coordinator for fighting extremism in the North Caucasus died in attacks. Just in the first three weeks of September, according to estimates by the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website, 30 suspected insurgents and 18 policemen and other government employees were killed (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/73122/).
Many observers believe that a large part of the violence in Dagestan and elsewhere in the North Caucasus derives from the government’s inability or unwillingness to adhere to the rule of law. On September 21, Dagestani rights activists and journalists staged a protest in Makhachkala against unlawful police practices like kidnapping, torture and extralegal murder. The protestors demanded that the authorities return Abdurakhman Abdurakhmanov and Akhmed Abdullaev, who are believed to have been kidnapped by government forces on July 25 and August 14, respectively. The activists also called on the government to conduct a proper investigation of other flagrant human rights abuses, such as the beating of three Dagestani lawyers by the police (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 21).
Dagestan’s ethnic diversity may prove to be yet another destabilizing factor in the republic. Khloponin dedicated part of his visit to discussing the October 2010 census with Dagestani officials. Khloponin’s deputy, Yury Oleinikov, cautioned the republican officials that if the population numbers for some ethnic groups are exaggerated in the census, it could provoke protests. Oleinikov even offered to allow representatives of the civil organizations of the various ethnic groups to observe the census in Dagestan to avoid complications arising afterwards (www.riadagestan.ru, September 21).
New details about the Russian government’s strategy to modernize the North Caucasus emerged on September 15. The strategy described provisions for a massive resettlement program from the North Caucasus into inner Russian regions and from inner Russia into the North Caucasus. In particular, Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia are cited in the document as the territories with the highest birthrates and numbers of unemployed. The Russian business-oriented website Marker.ru provided a photocopy of a document that envisages from 3,000 to 40,000 settlers being moved from the North Caucasus to dozens of inner Russian regions each year. The number of settlers from inner Russian regions to be settled in the North Caucasus is unspecified, but the expectation is that these people would be highly qualified specialists (www.marker.ru, September 17).
The blunt social engineering language of the document evoked criticism both from ethnic Russians and indigenous North Caucasians –so much so that Khloponin had to backtrack on these plans, offering reassurances that there would be no mass resettlement, only voluntary natural migration (RIA Novosti, September 17).
The Russian government’s intention of eliminating the problem of the North Caucasus by submerging it into the vastness of Russia’s population and territory has been apparent for a long time, but experts are pessimistic about the resettlement program’s prospects. Social policy professional, Natalya Zubarevich, said that even though she welcomed such plans, she doubted they could be implemented. According to Zubarevich, “utter Russian xenophobia” would be the first cause preventing North Caucasians from moving into the ethnic-Russian populated areas of Russia in any significant numbers. But perhaps even more importantly, Zubarevich added, practically all of the quality jobs are located in the Moscow metropolitan area, where the competition for jobs is high enough even without the arrival of people from the North Caucasus (www.rosbalt.ru, September 20).
The resettlement plans betray the Russian government’s inability to address the problems it faces in the North Caucasus. Instead of genuine modernization efforts, it appears to be increasingly reverting to the Russian imperial strategy of assimilation and oppression that dates back to the nineteenth century and therefore can hardly be effective in the modern era.