On November 19, United Russia party leader Boris Gryzlov presented five candidates for the position of president of Dagestan to President Dmitry Medvedev. The candidates include the current leader of Dagestan, Mukhu Aliev; the deputy head of the Dagestani government, Magomed Abdullaev; an advisor to the chairman of Russia’s Federation Council Magomed Magomedov; Dagestani parliamentary deputy Magomedsalam Magomedov; and the head of Russia’s treasury branch in Dagestan, Saigidgusein Magomedov. All candidates except the current head of Dagestan are members of United Russia, although Gryzlov in his talk with Medvedev dubbed the Mukhu Aliev as “a supporter of the United Russia party” (ITAR-TASS, November 19).
United Russia, as the majority party in Dagestan, received the right to come up with the shortlist of candidates for the president of the republic. Medvedev now will have to choose one person from the list and ask the Dagestani parliament to appoint him as Dagestan’s president. This awkward, non-transparent mechanism replaced popular elections of regional governors throughout Russia in 2004. The current president’s term expires in February 2010.
The absence of some candidates from United Russia’s list makes it especially intriguing. Prior to Gryzlov’s meeting with President Medvedev, there was extensive speculation that the Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, one of Dagestan’s political heavy-weights who is seen by many as the main rival of the current leader of Dagestan, had been shortlisted as one of the presidential candidates.
Local experts in Dagestan especially highlighted three candidates among the United Russia’s candidates list –Mukhu Aliev, Saigidgusein Magomedov and Magomed Abdullaev. While Magomed Abduallaev is popularly believed to be the successor that President Aliev has prepared for himself, Saigidgusein Magomedov is known for his opposition to the current political leadership of Dagestan. Some experts in Dagestan are skeptical of Mukhu Aliev’s prospects of being appointed for a second term, while others, on the contrary, think that Moscow is unlikely to replace him when the security situation in the republic is so precarious (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 19).
Earlier reports citing sources in the Russian presidential administration suggested that the Kremlin was not happy with Mukhu Aliev and might opt for another candidate. Aliev was blamed for permitting “chaos” in Dagestan and a strong opposition movement there. Even for the Kremlin the situation with the mayoral elections in the southern city of Derbent in October, when more than a third of the electoral points did not open to assure the victory of pro-Aliev candidate, seemed to be an embarrassment (www.gazeta.ru, November 10).
Meanwhile, Dagestan is regularly rocked by activities that could represent a political struggle or insurgency actions or a mixture of both. On November 11, a powerful explosion on the gas pipeline that connects Russia and Azerbaijan cut off gas supplies to Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala (www.gazeta.ru, November 12).
Ongoing civil violence –and a law enforcement reaction equally or more violent– has plagued Dagestan for years now. On November 10, national Police Day, President Aliev addressed the Dagestani police, saying that law enforcement should be considered to be involved in the kidnappings unless it solves kidnapping crimes. The Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights organization reported that during the period from February to August 2009, 25 people were kidnapped in Dagestan (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 11).
A report by Memorial human rights center identified the following patterns of security services’ behavior in Dagestan. Before June 2007, many of the people kidnapped in Dagestan as a rule vanished without a trace. From June 2007 up to summer 2009, those kidnapped were usually found several days later at a police station or detention center. By the time they were found they would have had confessed to terrorism-related crimes. Now, according to the report, kidnapped people are being killed and their murders are regularly made to look as if they occurred in shoot-outs with police. The bodies of people killed in this way often have signs of “terrible beatings and torture,” according to Memorial report (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 17). The rising number of these reports indicates that the police in Dagestan have opted to use harsher tactics in response to the wider challenge posed by insurgents, particularly since the June 5 assassination of the Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov.
It should be noted that the changes in the pattern of law enforcement behavior do not reflect the political changes in Dagestan. President Mukhu Aliev was appointed to his position in 2006. Since then the police and security services have changed their tactics several times as they saw fit. Therefore, this is indicative of the president of Dagestan having little or no influence over the law enforcement structures and their tactics.
Dagestani lawyer Rasul Kadiev addressed President Medvedev, demanding an end to “murders without investigation and trial” in the republic. According to Kadiev, capital punishment, which is formally not in use in Russia as part of its obligations to the Council of Europe, is employed de facto in Dagestan. He provided several examples of how law enforcement launches military offensives rather than police operations in the cities, using heavy military equipment. Kadiev said that during at least one police operation in Makhachkala, passersby were accidentally caught in police gunfire, wounded and subsequently killed by the police with “control shots” to their heads (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 12).
The situation in the republic will pose a challenge to any possible presidential candidate. Dagestani politics have been plagued by violence for a long time. The situation in the republic has worsened during the past several years as the violence has flared up, with top officials, including the republic’s interior minister, being killed along with scores of servicemen, civilians, alleged and actual Islamic insurgents. The problem is that while Moscow regards compliance as one of the most desirable qualities of the future president of Dagestan, the politics of this multicultural and multiethnic region require having a master of political alliances with considerable charisma. These two sets of qualities are most of the time almost mutually exclusive as Moscow values one thing in a potential Dagestani leader, while a person with almost completely the opposite qualities is needed to tackle Dagestan’s mounting problems.