Dagestan’s new president-elect, Magomedsalam Magomedov, is the son of the republic’s former leader, Magomedali Magomedov. The younger Magomedov became the head of Dagestan’s parliament after Mukhu Aliev was elected the republic’s president in 2006 (www.runewsweek.ru, February 10). It is difficult to determine if this was coincidental, but the candidacy of Aliev, proposed by the then President Vladimir Putin five years ago, was recently rejected by President Dmitry Medvedev. Putin was not satisfied with the performance of the father of the current president of Dagestan. For this reason he pensioned him off, replacing Magamedov with his protégé Mukhu Aliev.
Steadily, Putin’s former aides are being replaced by new people who cannot be called members of his team. Only time will tell whether this is a coincidence, or if Medvedev is really creating his own team, given that the Russian president is not taken seriously even inside Russia. The presidential election campaign in Russia, which will certainly lack fair competition and simply consist of opaque dealings by people from Putin’s and Medvedev’s inner circles, may help to answer that question. Aleksandr Khloponin, the new special envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, came to Makhachkala to introduce the newly-elected Dagestani president. This move likely irritated the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who expected Khloponin to visit him on his first official trip to the region.
Early reactions to the appointment of the new Dagestani president are rather restrained. People are afraid of making any comment, because of criticism that might follow from Moscow. Several local experts and analysts believe that the new president will not violate the existing clan system of government in Dagestan that was formed by his father, Magomedali Magomedov, during his 15-year rule (www.rusrand.ru, February 17).
For instance, deputy United Russia party leader Andrei Vorobyov highlighted “belonging to a very influential family” as one of the new Dagestani president’s strengths (www.rosbalt.ru, February 16). In light of this statement, it is unclear how President Medvedev plans to fight tribalism, the scourge of the Caucasus, as he claimed he would during his annual address to parliament earlier this year (www.actualcomment.ru, February 12). The new president of Dagestan boldly announced that he would pull the republic out of its current crisis without offering any detail on how he might achieve this. In regard to fighting the problems of extremism and terrorism, Magomedsalam Magomedov asserted that the authorities are ready to hold talks with those who want to return to normal life (www.dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru, February 20).
As anticipated in earlier analysis on the situation in Dagestan, if Moscow decided to replace Mukhu Aliev as Dagestan’s president, then inevitably a complete replacement of all the leadership posts in the republic’s government would follow. As anticipated, this is exactly what happened. The ethnic Kumyk population (the third ethnic group in the republic by size, numbering about 400,000) was the first to become dissatisfied. Up to 3,000 Kumyks took part in a meeting that occurred in the republic’s capital city near the Kumyk national theater in Makhachkala. Another several thousand Kumyks tried to enter the capital and were stopped by police at the city’s outskirts. The meeting’s participants later drafted a letter to President Medvedev outlining their concern that ethnic Kumyks are underrepresented in the local government (www.gazeta.ru, February 16). For the past 20 years, the prime minister’s post has been occupied by an ethnic Kumyk. However, under Mukhu Aliev’s leadership, the Kumyks lost this advantage because Aliev, who is Avar (with a population of 800,000 the most numerous ethnic group in Dagestan) decided to change the distribution formula for government positions. Prior to Aliev’s election, the head of the republic was a Dargin (second most populous, with 500,000). In an attempt to prevent dissatisfaction on the part of the Avars, incoming president, Magomedsalam Magomedov (a Dargin), opted to designate the post as belonging to the Avars, who in turn would become dissatisfied with the post of parliament speaker, which in reality does not amount to very much (www.regnum.ru, February 8).
For the Kumyks, however, this post is extremely important, because it helps them fight off the constant attempts to take away more of their land for the benefit of the other peoples of Dagestan, some of whom have lived in the mountains but are now gradually settling the valley lands of the Kumyks, especially around the capital Makhachkala. It is precisely on this soil that groups of Kumyks have clashed with the Avars and Dargins several times each year. It is doubtful that the meeting will have any major political repercussions, but the existence of popular opposition in such a complex republic as Dagestan speaks louder than words.
Meanwhile, the election of the new president has had no real effect on the activities of the militancy in Dagestan. On the morning of February 11, unidentified individuals shot a Dagestan interior ministry security worker. The policeman died soon after being hospitalized with a bullet wound to the head. On February 12, unknown persons shot up a local police department in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkentsky district. On the evening of February 14, in the village of Novye Gadari in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district, unknown attackers fired automatic weapons at a passing Lada Priora sedan loaded with members of the security services. Two policemen were killed. On the night of February 17, an attack on OMON personnel occurred in the Untsukulsky district of Dagestan, during which several members of the special Russian interior ministry detachment “Zubr” were wounded.
In the Gergebil district, on February 19, in the vicinity of the 140 kilometer point on the road connecting Makhachkala and Gergebil, unidentified persons fired automatic weapons from a wooded area at the Krasny Most (Red Bridge) checkpoint. Two policemen died in the attack. An explosive device was detonated in Dagestan’s capital on the same day.
As seen by these events, the chronology of last week’s incidents is quite vivid and offers western analysts a true sense of what is occurring in the beleaguered republic. It cannot change as a result of the political reshuffling in Dagestan’s leadership. Even the new leader’s rhetoric about using dialogue to persuade the militants to leave their forest strongholds does not address the deeper roots of the problem. A solution to this problem can only be achieved once the current political realities of the entire North Caucasus region are resolved, and that day remains a long way off.