Political Unrest Spreads To Dagestan And Kabardino-balkaria

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 32

The June raid on Ingushetia increasingly seems to be just one instance of the war in Chechnya spreading to neighboring territories. In an August 20 article for Nezavisimaya gazeta, correspondents Andrei Riskin, Maria Bondarenko and Nadezhda Popova concluded that the entire North Caucasus is “swiftly turning into a powder keg, in which guerrillas and terrorists feel so much freedom to maneuver that they almost do not try to hide either from the populace or from the local authorities.”

Especially dramatic this month is the confrontation in Dagestan between Saigidpasha Umakhanov, the mayor of the republic’s third-largest city, and the head of the republic’s State Council Magomedali Magomedov. Last month the former organized a mass protest demonstration in his city of Khasavyurt near the Chechen border, demanding a special presidential election. (Delicately balanced among various ethnic groups, Dagestan is the only Russian province that does not choose its chief executive by direct popular election: under its constitution, Magomedov’s current term of office will end in two years.) In response, the republican authorities launched a criminal case against the mayor and fired his local police chief. The mayor’s supporters are now planning a republic-wide day of demonstrations on September 10. The federal authorities, including the presidential representative to the Southern Federal District, are supporting Magomedov.

In a detailed analysis of the Dagestan crisis published on August 19 by the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Makhachkala journalist Magomed Isayev reported that the local police leadership had defied the republican government’s order to resign. Mayor Umakhanov’s charges against Magomedov are highly inflammatory: According to Isayev they include “responsibility for systemic corruption, failing to solve the republic’s economic problems, and even of being behind the 1998 assassination of the former leader of the republic’s Muslim community, mufti Said-Mukhammad-Haji Abubakarov.” Like many political disagreements in Dagestan this one has an ethnic subtext: Magomedov is a Dargin, Umakhanov an Avar. (The Avars are the republic’s largest ethnic group.)

Less noticed than the Dagestan drama has been the deteriorating situation in Kabardino-Balkaria, where last week a guerrilla band mounted a grenade-launcher attack on an armored truck of the republic’s Interior Ministry. According to the August 20 Nezavisimaya gazeta article, more than 400 police and FSB personnel took part in the ensuing battle, in which two of the police were killed. Its three authors charged that the federal authorities “have turned out to be captives of their own myths about the ‘definitive defeat of the terrorists’ in the North Caucasus.”