Once Considered a Rising Star, Dagestan’s Gaji Makhachev May Be Heading for a Fall

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 21

The recent actions of Dagestan’s new leader, President Ramazan Abdulatipov, raise many questions among local residents. Watching Abdulatipov displace people considered to be the leaders of Dagestan’s clans (http://www.vesti.ru/theme.html?tid=103534), residents of the republic hoped that the president would eschew the influence of the clans and press ahead with reforms. However, the fact that the old figures were replaced by new ones from the same ethnic clans (http://www.dp.ru/a/2013/06/13/Na_mesto_i_o__mjera_Mahachk/) has convinced many Dagestanis that nothing really is changing in the mountainous North Caucasus republic.

The most astonishing recent development in Dagestan has been the rise of the republic’s most notorious politician, Gaji Makhachev, who in late September was appointed to become a republican deputy prime minister overseeing the work of the republican branches of federal government agencies (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/230565/).

The new position was apparently specifically created for Makhachev in order to give him a sphere of influence, but without the opportunity to extract rent from it. The appointment shows that the republican government was unable to ignore the influence of this ambitious politician and businessman. Some experts said Makhachev was appointed as Dagestan’s seventh deputy prime minister because of his ties to the Rosneft state oil company, but that is probably not the primary reason for his elevation (http://kavpolit.com/nepotoplyaemyj-gadzhi/). Indeed, Makhachev’s personality was the main reason for his appointment. Even the previous Dagestani government preferred to dispatch him to Moscow, giving him the nominal position of head of the Dagestani government’s permanent representation office under the Russian presidential administration. After Abdulatipov removed the powerful mayor of Makhachkala, Said Amirov, he needed someone who could confront the mayor’s clan, which was not completely defeated. Makhachev, with his criminal biography, was the best candidate for such a task (http://www.regnum.ru/news/1711945.html).

Makhachev was first sent to prison early in his life, at the age of 16. In the spring of 1967, he was arrested on charges of rape and robbery, and was sentenced in June of that year under articles 89.2 and 145.2 of the criminal code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. His young age was considered to be an extenuating circumstance (http://www.ukru.ru/code/05/89/index.htm), leading to his release from prison the following year. Makhachev was imprisoned for a second time in 1980. On December 19, 1980, the Supreme Court of the Dagestani Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic sentenced him to six years in prison on charges of intentional serious bodily injury, intentional minor injury and illegal weapons possession. Makhachev managed to win an early release in 1982 (http://kavkazpress.ru/archives/26681).

Makhachev started his political career during the political power vacuum of the early 1990s, when Soviet power was fading while the new Russian authorities were mired in the infighting in Moscow. Makhachev rode the wave of nationalism rising in that period (http://www.gadji-makhachev.ru/content/view/5/39/). He led the Avar national movement and, using the name of the Avar national hero Imam Shamil, became a politician at the republican level in Dagestan and aspired to a wider scope of activities in the North Caucasus republic (http://www.peoples.ru/state/politics/gadji_mahachev/). The incursion of jihadists into Dagestan in the summer–fall of 1999 also helped Makhachev to rise to power. The Avar leader established self-defense groups under the pretext of protecting Dagestan from the jihadists. Without actually ever participating in military operations against the militants, he cast himself as the savior of all of Dagestan, not only of Avars. Makhachev downplayed the fact that the jihadists who organized the incursion into Dagestan were themselves Dagestanis, such as Bagaudin Kebedov, a well-know Dagestani salafist. Makhachev, instead, recast his activities as representing Dagestanis defending themselves against Chechens (http://kavkazpress.ru/archives/26681).

Makhachev survived five attempts on his life. The last one took place in 2007 in Moscow, which purportedly was carried out by relatives of the then-mayor of Makhachkala, Said Amirov (http://www.compromat.ru/page_18667.htm).

Dagestan’s new deputy prime minister frequently boasts of his close relationship with Ramzan Kadyrov, always emphasizing his friendly relations with the Chechen leader’s father, Ahmad-haji Kadyrov. It must be noted that nearly all key political figures in Dagestan try to elicit recognition from their Chechen neighbor to boost their own internal positions in Dagestan. A case in point is that Ramzan Kadyrov awarded Makhachev with a medal in memory of his father (http://www.gadji-makhachev.ru/content/view/8/2/).

Makhachev’s political instincts did not fail him in 2013, when he realized that the replacement of then-president of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov (http://www.corrupcia.net/articles/fact-8580.html), with Ramazan Abdulatipov, an Avar, opened new prospects for his career in his home republic. So, in January of this year, Makhachev surprised observers by exchanging his position as Dagestan’s representative in Moscow with that of the head of Kizilyurt district (http://www.regnum.ru/news/1638009.html). After two months, Makhachev left the district behind in the hands of an appointee and, in September, became a Dagestani deputy prime minister (http://www.riadagestan.ru/news/the_government_of_the/gadzhi_makhachev_naznachen_zamestitelem_predsedatelya_pravitelstva_rd_/).

Within a month of his appointment as deputy prime minister, Makhachev provoked the ire of the republican leadership and the blogger community (http://www.riadagestan.ru/news/the_government_of_the/gadzhi_makhachev_poluchil_ofitsialnoe_preduprezhdenie_ot_premer_ministra_dagestana_abdusamada_gamidova/). Appearing on a Dagestani TV program, Makhachev lashed out at the governor of Krasnodar, Alexander Tkachyov (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCBMLemGyZI). He also attacked bloggers for criticizing him (http://kavpolit.com/neugodnye-dagestanskie-blogery/) and denounced a website apparently linked to the Dagestani interior ministry for abandoning the Dagestani mentality (http://kavkazpress.ru/archives/31071).

In the wake of these public disputes, Dagestani Prime Minister Abdusamad Gamidov prohibited members of the government from making political statements not coordinated with the republican leadership. This rule, which limits the activities of such politicians as Makhachev, is likely to result in further conflicts.

Thus, the appointment of Gaji Makhachev was probably a move designed to contain his influence during the period of a transition of power in Dagestan. It is not hard to foresee that the conflict will continue and that Makhachev’s resignation as Dagestani deputy prime minister will happen under the usual pretext of a governmental reorganization.