Lost Between Words and Deeds: Dagestan’s Government Fails to Influence Rebel Surrender

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 3

On January 1, the head of the criminal police department of Untsukul district, Magomedrasul Makachev, was gunned down in his own home. Untsukul is an area in the Dagestani mountains that is known for its strong Islamic traditions and formidable, unending fight against government forces (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 1). On December 26, eight insurgents were killed during a massive counterterrorist operation carried out jointly by Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) forces in Makhachkala. Twenty-seven-year-old Magomed Sheikhov, who allegedly had the rebel rank of “emir of Makhachkala,” was among the slain militants (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 27, 2010). Two more suspected rebels were killed in Makhachkala in another police operation on January 4 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 4).

Violence in Dagestan continued largely unabated following the large government-sponsored conference calling for peace in the republic that was held in Makhachkala on December 15. Both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent in comments to be addressed to the gathering, thereby denoting the Russian government’s highest level of interest in the event. Over 3,000 participants attended the conference, at which both government officials and Muslim clerics spoke.

One of the most authoritative Islamic clerics in Dagestan, Said-Afandi Chirkeysky, called on the local militants to stop the war. The president of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, petitioned President Medvedev to announce an amnesty for Dagestani militants. According to Magomedov 1,100 people died in attacks in the republic recently (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 16, 2010). The Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website enumerated 117 proven civilian deaths in the North Caucasus during 2010, of these, 54 of which took place in Dagestan (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 29, 2010).

Gadzhi Makhachev, who is Dagestan’s envoy to the Russian president and one of the most influential politicians in the republic, proposed abolishing the republican law against Wahhabis (aka Salafis) (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 16, 2010). This purist teaching in Islam is not officially banned in Russia, even though it is believed that many of the insurgents in the North Caucasus are also adherents of this school of belief. Dagestan adopted its “anti-Wahhabi” law back in 1999, and observers say some Muslim leaders were able to exploit the measure by accusing their rivals of being “Wahhabis.”

Another well-known Muslim leader, Abas Kebedov, compared Dagestan to a sinking ship, warning that it was “on the verge of serious troubles and great changes.” Kebedov suggested that the government in Dagestan should not try to keep Islam out of politics, but rather make use of it and channel it in the right direction. If this is not done, he warned, leverage of Islam would be handed over to those who are “in a state of war with the government” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 17, 2010). Abas Kebedov’s brother is Bagaudin Magomedov, who is believed to be the leader of Dagestan’s Salafis and is currently in hiding, presumably in Turkey.

Aleksandr Khloponin, Moscow’s envoy in the North Caucasus, proposed setting up Islamic educational centers in Dagestan to prevent Dagestanis from being taught Islam from abroad. Khloponin promised to create a district educational center in the North Caucasus Federal District and attract modern managers to Dagestan (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 15, 2010).

As if the North Caucasus were not isolated enough from the world, Khloponin’s proposal is designed to extend this isolation to Islamic education. This policy is unlikely to work without strict police control of those Dagestanis who travel abroad. Khloponin’s idea about bringing modern managers from outside of Dagestan to replace the “homegrown old-school managers” and changing everything is not naive. Political issues, like the absence of fair and free elections, can hardly be treated with effective administrators. Rather Khloponin’s proposal is a thinly disguised attempt to increase Moscow’s control over the Dagestani economic assets as much as possible.

However, Moscow has had a lot of trouble appointing ethnic Russians even to positions such as the head of the tax collection service in Dagestan or the chairman of the republican Supreme Court. So, it is hardly feasible for Khloponin to flood this republic with modern, effective “managers” to control its economy. Especially since the Dagestani economy is so fragmented, consisting mainly of small and mid-size private enterprises and the continual redistribution of the budget money.

Many observers doubt that the Russian government’s efforts to solve the insurgency problem in Dagestan with official speeches will succeed. Conferences and nice speeches are no substitute for real reforms, so unless the government proceeds with genuine reform, the conflict in Dagestan is unlikely to end any time soon.