Fifteen Dagestani organizations have asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to fire the head of Dagestan, Ramazan Abdulatipov. The Union of Patriotic Forces of Dagestan and the Assembly of the Indigenous Peoples of Dagestan organized a symposium on February 1. Following the symposium, which was titled “Priority Projects of the President of Dagestan—Gamble or Reality?” 15 out of 17 participant organizations signed the petition. Even the presence of two Dagestani officials at the roundtable—Denga Khalidov, an aide to Abdulatipov, and someone from the republican government’s press service—did not stop the initiators from signing the petition.
Subsequently, on February 7, the petition was forwarded to President Putin. According to the signatories, the republic is in a critical socio-political situation. “Further delay and refusal to make a decision about dismissing Abdulatipov from his position may lead to an open confrontation between the people and the authorities. Dissenting feelings, based on religious, ethnic and territorial conflicts, continue to rise up,” the petition said. Further, the authors of the statement accused Abdulatipov of transforming the republic into a “military training ground and experimental base.” The conference participants decided to call an extraordinary meeting of the Dagestani peoples and stage a rally with the single demand of ousting the head of the republic (https://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/238717/).
Ramazan Abdulatipov came to power in Dagestan in January 2013. Being an experienced Moscow-based politician, he found the Dagestani political scene a daunting space to implement his policies, because of a lack of support from the local elites. Abdulatipov and Moscow’s preference to do away with direct elections in the republic in favor of appointing the leader secured his confirmation as the head of Dagestan in September 2013, but deprived him of potential credentials and the support base of a democratically elected governor. Abdulatipov’s crusade against corruption and clans in the republic won him many allies in the beginning, but continual reshuffling of government and municipal officials did not visibly improve the security or economic situation in Dagestan. In fact, some people pointed to Abdulatipov’s increasing reliance on his own clan, which comes from Dagestan’s Tlyarata district. The ethnic dimension of the issue is also important. An ethnic Avar, Ramazan Abdulatipov replaced an ethnic Dargin, Magomedali Magomedov. Since Avars are the largest ethnic group in Dagestan, other ethnic groups increasingly feel sidelined by the Avars. Abdulatipov’s priorities also are sometimes questioned, as he has boasted of writing a textbook on ethnic relations in Russia while serving as governor (https://kumuk.info/politika/avarskij-nacionalist-nauchit-rossiyan-tolerantnosti.html). Soon after his confirmation as the head of the republic in September 2013, a play by Abdulatipov was staged at a major theater stage in Makhachkala (https://www.rg.ru/2013/10/02/reg-skfo/spektakl-anons.html), raising a few eyebrows.
Moscow’s envoy in the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin, also unexpectedly criticized the head of Dagestan. Commenting on Abdulatipov’s decision to divide Dagestan into four big districts, Khloponin said that he was skeptical about such divisions. “I am a supporter of mergers, rather than divisions,” Khloponin said, pointing to his role in the Kremlin-sponsored amalgamations of the regions in Russian Federation (https://itar-tass.com/politika/1009106).
Khloponin’s comments came more than two months after Abdulatipov’s decrees to appoint heads of the four mega-districts, creating another bureaucratic level of governance in Dagestan. The Moscow envoy’s public criticism of the governor of Dagestan is unusual, indicating that Moscow may be frustrated with Abdulatipov’s moves, regarding them as eccentricities, rather than useful political instruments. Earlier in February, Abdulatipov stated at a press conference that his government had scored some achievements in fighting corruption, but it was not “fully overcome yet.” Dagestan’s governor cited changing the culture and life goals as the ways to suppress corruption, also adding the dubious statement that “until everyone is replaced, it is hard to overcome corruption” (https://itar-tass.com/politika/937808).
According to Magomed Magomedov, an analyst with the Dagestani newspaper Chernovik, Abdulatipov’s popularity peaked in March 2013, when he was still acting governor of the republic and was credited for a relentless fight with corruption. Currently, his popularity is estimated at 25-31 percent. Despite his plummeting popularity, Abdulatipov may still be highly favored by Moscow. “Civil war is going on here,” head of the Union of Patriotic Forces of Dagestan, Magomed Akhmednabiev, told Kavkazsky Uzel website. “This is beneficial to some forces on the federal level, where, as we know, there is a party of war and a party of peace. They do not want a civil society, [or a] middle class interested in order, to appear here. They do not need that and that is why there is [social] stratification—some live on handouts while others receive all the resources. We all know what the law enforcement agencies are doing here” (https://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/238717).
Abdulatipov oversaw the destruction of the existing mechanisms for dialogue between Sufis and Salafis in Dagestan as well as the expansion of the Russian security services’ operations in the republic. Dagestanis may not like Abdulatipov’s moves, but Moscow is likely to appreciate them. This may create a new situation in Dagestan in which the head of the republic and his entourage, along with their backers in Moscow, will be increasingly alienated from the republican population. The new state of affairs could, in turn, lead to Dagestani separatism becoming the dominant doctrine of the insurgents in the republic.