Increasingly it is becoming obvious that the leadership of Ingushetia and Dagestan are following the example of the Chechen government in trying to portray their regions as safe places in order to claim they have at least some level of popular support. However, there is a difference between the leaders of Ingushetia and Dagestan, on the one hand, and of Chechnya, on the other, in terms of the way they strengthen their personal authority. In Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov did this through heavy pressure on his opponents, while in Ingushetia and Dagestan, the federal government in Moscow has acted directly to punish some while favoring others.
Periods of forced volunteer work, also known as subbotniks, have been widespread in Chechnya (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/190187/). Subbotniks have allowed the republican government to exploit tens of thousands people without paying them wages. These periods have sometimes lasted for months. The authorities in Dagestan have adopted the same practices, and it was reportedly the Committee for Sport, Tourism and Youth Affairs in Makhachkala that launched this initiative (https://www.interdag.ru/news/2425/massovye-subbotniki-v-mahachkale). When the authorities ascertained that the policy worked, they extended it to other government organizations of the city (https://www.rgvktv.ru/news/5850). Of course, no one seems to ask about the activities of the organizations responsible for keeping the city clean.
Even though subbotniks may appear to be the result of private initiative, this is not actually the case. For example, in Ingushetia, the head of the republic, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, officially proposed implementing subbotniks in the republic (https://vaynah.su/news/subbotniki_v_ingushetii_ochistim_nashu_ingushetiju_3_nojabrja/2012-11-02-1129), and ministries (https://gkhri.ru/pess-centr/novosti/uzhkh-ingushetii-prinjalo-uchastie-v-obscherespublikanskom-subbotnike.html), along with students, schoolchildren and teachers, participated in the mass work events (https://respublika-ingushetiya.mger2020.ru/content/2013/10/08/59589).
Subbotniks, of course, do little to improve the image of the Kremlin’s protégé compared to such steps as the arrest of officials, who are seen as the source of all evil in the republic. In 2012-2013, the authorities in Ingushetia (https://www.rg.ru/2013/12/16/reg-skfo/koripkcioner-anons.html) approved the arrests of officials from the Pension Fund and the Ministry of Property and Land Relations. In Dagestan, there were a series of arrests of officials in 2013 (https://www.interfax.ru/russia/txt/329843) and at the beginning of 2014 (https://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1204419). Internet audiences were divided between those who thought that the new Dagestani leadership was making some progress and others who regarded the arrests as a public relations campaign (https://www.facebook.com/groups/dagnews/).
It is not hard to predict that such arrests will continue, yet the arrests are generally not initiated by the regional authorities. Moreover, the federal government sometimes puts regional governments in an awkward position. For example, within three months of appointing Magomedgusein Nasrutdinov to Dagestan’s deputy prime minister, the republic’s leader, Ramazan Abdulatipov learned that his appointee was accused of involvement in large-scale fraud. It is noteworthy that the Dagestani branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) had launched the investigation into Nasrutdinov’s activities prior to his appointment; and in the summer of 2013, his case was handed over to the FSB’s central offices in Moscow (https://polit.ru/news/2014/01/21/nasrutdinov/). The Kremlin had apparently withheld this information from Abdulatipov, its own protégé in the republic, even though Nasrutdinov had been under investigation for the previous six months. Why did the FSB fail to warn Abdulatipov that his appointee was a suspect in a criminal case? Moscow apparently does not consider it necessary to consult even with its own people in the republic; otherwise, the central authorities would try to avoid staining the image of the regional governors.
Another side of the federal authorities’ policy is to pressure businesses to invest in the economies of Dagestan (https://lezgi-yar.ru/news/investicii_sulejmana_kerimova_vozvrashhajutsja_v_dagestan/2014-01-16-2008) and Ingushetia (https://www.rg.ru/2013/05/31/biznes.html). Ingushetia ranks 63rd among 83 Russian regions in terms of how attractive it is to investors (https://www.gd.ru/news/view/id/1729-respublika-ingushetiya–ne-samyy-privlekatelnyy-region-rossii-s-tochki-zreniya-investitsiy/). Moscow assumes some of the risks and demands that businesses that made their fortune outside the North Caucasus invest in the region. This policy has yielded few results. Back in 2012, Ingushetia’s Yevkurov promised that private investment would grow 3,000 percent (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/208027/), but today the republican authorities prefer not to remember that.
In the religious realm, regional leaders pay the salaries of the official clergymen, who in return are expected to cooperate with the government. Support for the Muslim clergy is very important for the government because it strengthens the government’s cause in its fight against the jihadists. In particular, the official clergy provides some answers to the question of how Muslims should cooperate with the country’s non-Muslim leadership. The government adheres to the tactics of heavy oppression and rules out any possibility of admitting blunders in its counterinsurgency campaigns (https://mehkkhel.org/?p=1951). The mechanisms of dialogue with the insurgents that were introduced in Dagestan in 2012 through substantial effort (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qt_TzLMEk0) have been scrapped. The government exchanged its peaceful tactics for a battle in the name of so-called “traditional Islam”—that is, the type of Islam approved by the Kremlin, but not necessarily by the Muslims themselves.
Kabardino-Balkaria is likely to follow the examples of Ingushetia and Dagestan in the near future. Businessman-turned-politician, Arsen Kanokov was recently removed as the republic’s leader and replaced by Yuri Kokov, an interior ministry general (https://www.tvc.ru/news/show/id/24777). The Russian president’s envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Alexander Khloponin, clearly laid out Kokov’s responsibilities when presenting him to the republican elites. “Spots of tension still exist over here and they will have to be neutralized in a decisive manner,” Khloponin said (https://kavpolit.com/xloponin-kokov-prizvan-nejtralizovat-terroristicheskuyu-napryazhennost-v-kabardino-balkarii/).
Thus, one can conclude that the experts in the Russian presidential administration do not bother to look for unique solutions for each of the republics of the North Caucasus in order to reduce tensions in the region. Therefore, Moscow is unlikely to have the same type of success in the rest of the North Caucasus that it had in Chechnya. The situation is becoming more volatile, the problems are deepening and people are becoming increasingly radicalized as a result of Moscow’s policies.