Vienna, February 8 – A week ago, 600 Daghestanis demonstrated against Moscow’s appointment of an ethnic Russian to head the Federal Tax Service office in Makhachkala and Daghestani officials kept him cooling his heels at the border to that North Caucasus republic saying that they could not guarantee his security.
Nonetheless, a few days later the Russian government did manage to get Vladimir Radchenko installed his new office, an apparent example of the ease with which Moscow feels it can ignore popular anger and even media coverage of such protests. But if that tactic regularly works elsewhere, it does not appear to be working in Daghestan.
Russian news agencies have now reported that on Friday, two unidentified men broke into Radchenko’s office, held a gun to his head, and told him that he would be murdered if he did not leave his post and the republic in short order. They then led him to a car, drove away along the city’s Imam Shamil Prospect, left Radchenko in it, and disappeared into the crowd (www.rosbalt.ru/2009/02/08/616461.html and www.vz.ru/news/2009/2/7/254126.html).
One reason last week’s protest may have been so large was the support its participants enjoyed from local officials, many of whom were just as angry as the demonstrators about the appointment of an outsider -- and an ethnic Russian to boot -- to a position which the central authorities could use against the infamously corrupt leadership of Daghestan.
And it is entirely possible that some Daghestani officials may have been behind Friday’s act of intimidation. At the very least, it is unlikely that the authorities there will find the perpetrators or that a local jury would convict them if there were a trail – not that that pattern would constitute a serious exception to the way things are done elsewhere in Russia now.
But it is certainly the case that these acts of public insubordination will reinforce the already strong conviction in the Russian capital that Daghestan has now displaced Chechnya and more recently Ingushetia as the most violent and recalcitrant of the republics in the Northern Caucasus.
That could prompt some in Moscow demand more radical measures against Makhachkala, although any use of force there would likely backfire, but it is likely that the resistance Radchenko faces, however much Moscow backs him up, will lead some in the Russian capital to advocate a more cautious cadres policy in the North Caucasus and elsewhere.
What will happen next in Makhachkala is far from clear: Moscow, of course, won’t want to appear to back down in this case lest it spark other protests against officials Russian citizens in one or another region of the country don’t like. But Daghestanis don’t seem likely to be willing to back down either. And as a result, more fireworks over Radchenko are likely.