On February 20, the chairman of the Dagestani branch of the Russian political party Spravedlivaya Rossiya (Just Russia), Gajimurad Omarov, was beaten up in Makhachkala. Omarov said the assailants were people associated with the governor of the republic, Ramazan Abdulatipov. The attack took place at a restaurant where Just Russia held its convention. Omarov was once again reelected as the head of the Dagestani branch of the party. According to witnesses, young athletic-looking men started to gather around the restaurant while the conference was still going on there. After the official part of the conference ended and the participants were preparing for lunch, police officers entered the building and urged everyone to leave the building as soon as possible, saying a bomb threat had been phoned in. After Omarov left the conference venue along with others, he was beaten up, while the police looked on and even, allegedly, prevented Omarov’s supporters from protecting him. Having swapped several cars, Omarov’s supporters managed to deliver him to the airport in Grozny, from where he was flown to Moscow for treatment at a hospital. The politician was diagnosed with a fractured collarbone, concussion and contusion of the eyeball. The Dagestani police claimed they learned about the incident from the media. The leadership of Just Russia in Moscow, however, strongly condemned the attack and demanded a high-profile investigation into the incident (Kommersant, February 23).
Gajimurad Omarov spoke on camera apparently immediately after the attack, when he still had blood all over his face. The politician sarcastically thanked Abdulatipov for the warm reception. Omarov went on to say that the governor’s bodyguards accompanied the police in the restaurant and that corruption in the republic now was concentrated in Abdulatipov’s hands (YouTube, February 21). According to other accounts, the police also beat up other party conference participants (Chernovik, February 21). Despite the police’s reticence about the attack, the public shock was so significant that the speaker of the parliament of Dagestan, Hizri Shihsaidov, called for an investigation of the incident. At a parliamentary session on February 26, Shihsaidov issued a cautious warning: “It is unthinkable to sort things out in politics in such a way in the 21st century. There is an opportunity for having discussion and deliberation. I would like to turn to the law enforcement agencies and ask them to inform the public about the results of the investigation of this incident, when they are available. If we pretend that we do not notice and do not see anything, things like that will happen to anyone who is in politics” (Chernovik, February 26).
While in the hospital in Moscow, Omarov told the Kavkazsky Uzel website that the attack took him by complete surprise, as he was attending a regularly scheduled conference of the party. Dagestani expert Milrad Fatullaev told the website that Omarov was in active political opposition to Ramzan Abdulatipov. Omarov’s party is gearing up for the municipal elections in Dagestan in September 2015. Previously, Omarov organized a group hunger strike demanding Abdulatipov’s resignation. Since Omarov leads one of the officially approved parties of Russia, he has considerable leverage in the republic because he can unite various disgruntled political forces that are in opposition to Abdulatipov. Another Dagestani expert, Magomed Bisavaliev, however, told Kavkazsky Uzel that Omarov had a drunken fistfight with his friends and presented it as a politically motivated attack through the media to achieve political gains. Some Dagestanis have grimly joked that the republic has democratized, given that previously, political foes were killed, and now they are only beaten up (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 26).
If Dagestani officials had no involvement in the attack on Omarov, then their public statements and general behavior has been quite unusual as some of them, such as the parliament’s speaker, recognize the attack and some, most principally, Abdulatipov, have remained silent about the incident. The Dagestani government kept silent for three full days and only on the fourth day stated that the government had no involvement in the attack and even cast doubt that the attack took place. Abdulatipov himself did not comment on the attack, which means, according to local experts, that either the Dagestani governor was involved in the attack or is completely indifferent to it (Chernovik, February 27).
The Just Russia party is fairly close to the Kremlin and is believed to have been created as a Kremlin project to show a semblance of “competition” in a political environment dominated by the United Russia party. Despite its proximity to the Russian officialdom in Moscow, even officially approved parties sometimes become fiercely opposed to the politicians of the ruling United Russia party in regions where political cleavages run deep, such as Dagestan.
As the situation develops, Ramazan Abdulatipov is likely to lose points regardless of the outcome. Political violence is not something that Abdulatipov’s friends in Moscow necessarily abhor; rather, it is the publicity exposing the darker side of contemporary Russian politics that makes them nervous.