Moscow Decides to Implement Chechen Blueprint in Dagestan

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 11

Dagestan is interesting not only because it is the largest republic of the region, but also because it has by far the strongest Salafist armed resistance in the North Caucasus. That is why every political event in this North Caucasian republic becomes an important topic of discussion across the region. The recent arrest of Said Amirov, the mayor of Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, was more than simply the arrest of a republican official: it will make other officials in the republics of the North Caucasus concerned about their own future as well (

One of the questions that arises from Amirov’s arrest in Dagestan is whether there is any connection to his ouster and the resignation of Vladislav Surkov from the post of Russian deputy prime minister ( and In all likelihood it is not a mere coincidence that Dagestan’s best known politician was targeted after Surkov was removed from his position, from which he oversaw the Kremlin’s policy in the North Caucasus. Surkov apparently was one of those people in the Russian presidential administration who considered any quick fixes for the region, such as a reshuffling of clans or redrawing the economy in favor of certain oligarchs, to be too risky. Amirov was the fourth victim of Moscow’s new policy in this republic. Dagestan’s president, Magomedsalam Magomedov, an ethnic Dargin, fell first ( Suleiman Kerimov, an ethnic Lezgin, was the second victim as he was forced to give up managing his business directly ( Akhmed Bilalov, an ethnic Avar, fell third, after Vladimir Putin became displeased with him and fired him from the positions of the vice president of the Russian National Olympic Committee and head of the company for building resorts in the North Caucasus. Ironically, Bilalov ended up immigrating to Germany after his sacking ( Finally, Said Amirov, who had been mayor of Makhachkala since 1998, became the fourth victim of the purge.

Amirov, an ethnic Dargin, was born in 1954. The Dargins are the second largest ethnic group in Dagestan after the Avars. He also received multiple state awards, and in 2012 he was chosen as the best city mayor in Russia (
All of this is the official side of the story, but the real issue is different. Amirov was considered to be the “godfather” of the Dargin clan in the Dagestani political system for quite a long time. His political ambitions were greater than simply being the mayor of the Dagestani capital, but in order to move up the governmental ladder, he had to receive the Kremlin’s blessing. So Amirov showed some respect for Moscow’s appointments in Dagestan, but in exchange he demanded concessions from those who were appointed by Moscow. None of the presidents of Dagestan dared to challenge him directly: all leaders of the republic were forced to take Amirov’s economic and political interests into account.

When, at the beginning of 2013, Magomedov was unexpectedly replaced with Ramazan Abdulatipov, a member of the intelligentsia, a philosopher and inexperienced politician, as Dagestan’s president, many observers of Dagestan’s internal politics could not understand the reasons behind the move ( For example, some considered Abdulatipov an interim figure who would be removed in the elections in September 2013 ( Now it appears that before Abdulatipov agreed to become the president of Dagestan, he asked Moscow to stop supporting certain politicians and businessmen against the will of the president of the republic. The mayor of Makhachkala did not hide his irritation with the fact that he had not been informed about the reasons for Magomedsalam Magomedov’s resignation ( Now it is clear that Moscow had planned Amirov’s resignation once Magomedov was removed from office.

In March 2013, the chief of police in Makhachkala, Raip Ashikov, was arrested in the case of the “gang of prosecutors.” Investigators assert that the gang was involved in dozens of contract killings of investigators and prosecutors, illegal drug trafficking and other grave crimes. One month later, the police detained the investigator from the Kirov district of Makhachkala, Magomed Akhmedov, a.k.a. Zayats (Rabbit), and the commander of the police patrol unit in the city of Kaspiisk, Gaji Jamalutdinov. Akhmadov confessed to involvement in over six murders. On May 31, the deputy mayor of Kaspiisk and Said Amirov’s nephew, Yusup Japarov, was arrested. That same day, May 31, the police arrested the 24-year-old leader of the Makhachkalinskaya terrorist group, Sirazhudin Guchuchaliev. The arrested militant provided evidence of links between Makhachkala Mayor Amirov and the rebels (

Several other top Dagestani officials were arrested along with the mayor of Makhachkala. Moscow apparently decided not simply to dismiss Amirov, but weaken the entire clan he had created over the previous 20 years ( Amirov himself denied all accusations against him, calling them fabricated ( On June 1, a court refused to release Amirov and authorized his preventive detention for two months in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison. Amirov is physically handicapped and can move around only with the use of a wheelchair (

Various experts rushed to predict that Amirov’s arrest would lead to the destabilization of Dagestan. The government should have abstained from redrawing the clan structure that had formed for decades, some experts claimed ( However, clan structures have superb abilities to adjust to the incoming strong political figure. In this case, for example, one will likely see attempts to organize petitions and protests in support of Amirov, but no more than that ( Amirov’s clan members certainly are already looking for ways to get closer to the clan of the acting president, Ramazan Abdulatipov. Consequently, there will not be much discontent on the ground. After Amirov’s arrest, dozens of his close associates in the government will also fall as well (

Having received authority from Moscow, Ramazan Abdulatipov is facing a fate similar to his neighbor, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya. Evidently, the Kremlin is trying to turn Abdulatipov into its own Kadyrov in Dagestan—a “Dagestanization” of Dagestan’s government (like the “Chechenization” of Chechnya a decade ago), with Abdulatipov owing his allegiance solely to Putin. An implementation of the Chechen blueprint in Dagestan with some local peculiarities is, therefore, likely.