Regional activists in Stavropol region have sounded the alarm, alleging that a Dagestani oligarch is planning to buy up the region’s politicians. A source said that the Dagestani billionaire, Magomedrasul Omarov, wants to expand his influence to neighboring Stavropol region via the Rodina party, which has branches in both Dagestan and Stavropol region. According to the source, Omarov leads the party’s Dagestani branch and plans to use it as a vehicle for spreading his influence to Stavropol region. As the regional print and traditional electronic media is tightly controlled in Stavropol region, the anonymous source made the revelations through Instagram (Instagram.com/p/BEic_MouHXi, April 23). The anonymous source struck a nerve among many ethnic-Russian residents of Stavropol, who zealously guard the region against what many regard as the encroachment of the North Caucasians on “ethnic-Russian land.” Hence, the publication sparked a heated debate locally (Kavkaz Segodnya, April 23).
Like many Russian oligarchs, Omarov became rich off his lengthy and successful career in the government. For a long time, the head of the Dagestani branch of Rodina led the republican road maintenance service (Rodina.ru, accessed May 2). In 2010, Omarov was appointed as head of the Makhachkala sea port (Kavkazsky Uzel, May 30, 2010). In 2002, the official-businessman survived an attempt on his life, in which three people were killed, including Omarov’s aide and two bodyguards (Kommersant, April 23, 2002). Road maintenance services across the North Caucasus are quite corrupt and their heads normally are quite wealthy, which allows them to survive nearly all political upheavals. Omarov is apparently trying to use the Rodina party machine to be elected to the Russian State Duma.
Elections to the Russian State Duma are scheduled to take place across the country in September. Rodina is one of the Kremlin-made parties trying to run to the right of the ruling United Russia party. The party grew out of the social movement Rodina–Congress of Russian Communities, and its Russian nationalist overtones have persisted ever since. It is also quite close to President Vladimir Putin and sometimes referred to as “Putin’s Special Force [Spetsnaz]” (BBC News—Russian service, October 1, 2012).
One of the well-known “hawks” in the Russian government, Dmitry Rogozin, used to be the head of the party. Now, Rodina is led by Aleksei Zhuravlyov, who also heads a movement in support of the army, navy, and the military-industrial complex (Rodina.ru, Dobrovol.info, accessed May 2).
Given Rodina’s positions, it is not surprising that Stavropol Cossacks, who regard themselves as the defenders of Russia in the North Caucasus, “the first line of defense” against the expansion of Muslim North Caucasians, have joined the party in large numbers. The news about their leadership “selling them out” to a Dagestani oligarch caused an uproar among Rodina members in Stavropol. Omarov reportedly offered to finance Rodina’s chapter in Pyatigorsk, which is led by Mikhail Seredenko. Omarov allegedly wants to snatch the eastern areas of Stavropol region that border Dagestan, which has experienced a steady outflow of ethnic Russians and an inflow of non-ethnic-Russian Dagestanis. Besides being regional Rodina party leader, Seredenko is also a Cossack. The authorities apparently disliked him for demanding greater property rights for Cossacks and removed him from several positions within Cossack organizations. According to Seredenko, Pyatigorsk Mayor Lev Travnev is behind the attack on him. Seredenko claims Travnev was charged with criminal offenses in the past and should be brought to justice. Seredenko said that regional authorities are attacking him and his party because its popularity in Stavropol region is growing. He also warned that regional authorities should avoid pitting ethnic groups against each other. Seredenko defended Rodina’s nationalities policy, saying that out of 26 candidates of the party, “only one is an ethnic Dagestani,” as if having an ethnic non-Russian on a party’s list of candidates were something shameful and ignoble (Kavkazskaya Politika, April 26).
For an outsider, the brawl in Stavropol may seem bizarre. After all, both ethnic Russians and Dagestanis are citizens of the same country and, supposedly, have the same right to elect, be elected and “spread their influence.” However, given the current realities of the Russian Federation and the North Caucasus, the issue of ethnic and religious identity is quite important for regional politics. Areas are associated with dominant ethnic groups and violations of this de facto order are not easily tolerated. The Russian government frequently shames the North Caucasians for adhering to their clans and the region’s persistent interethnic animosities. However, when it comes to areas presumed to belong to ethnic Russians, such as Stavropol region, the positions of the majority of Russian political forces and the Russian government coincide, with all of them seeking to prevent what they regard as the encroachment on Russian territory by non-Russians. While Moscow likes to accuse foreign forces of trying to break up the Russian Federation, the Russian government’s own contribution to the persisting political divisions in the country is often overlooked.