Friday, March 20, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Response to Makhachkala’s Success in Blocking Appointment of Russian Threatens Moscow’s Control of Daghestan

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 20 – Moscow has taken its revenge on Daghestan for blocking the appointment of an ethnic Russian to the tax office there by firing the most senior Daghestani serving in Moscow, an action that highlights Russian anger but that almost certainly will undermine the center’s ability to maintain its hold on Daghestan.
Yesterday, the board of the government’s All-Russian Exhibition Center voted to fire Magomed Musayev, a Daghestani who only the day before had told “Nezavisimaya gazeta” that “the conflict of the Center with Daghestan cannot be a cause for my dismissal.” Taking that step, he said, could unleash “the ethnic card” (
But as the New Region news agency put it today, “Musayev’s optimism[on that score] was premature,” citing the conclusions of experts that his firing was a clear signal to Daghestani President Mukhu Aliyev as to just how angry many in Moscow are about Makhachkala’s success in blocking the appointment of Vladimir Radchenko to head the federal tax office there.
That took place six weeks ago. At the beginning of February, the Federal Tax Service (FNS) named Radchenko, who had been working in another North Caucasus republic, to head its office in the Daghestani capital. Local people were outraged, staged demonstrations, and even at one point kidnapped him, telling him to leave the republic if he knew what was good for him.
The sources of this anger seem to have been ethnic pride and political face. On the one hand, many Lezgins believed that this position which had been filled by one of their own should continue to be staffed that way, even though the FNS is a federal function and the heads of such offices are named by Moscow.
And on the other, President Aliyev was outraged that the appointment was made by the FNS and not by Russian Vice President Aleksey Kudrin after consultations with Makhachkala. The Daghestani leader flew to Moscow, and Radchenko left Makhachkala never to return, a course of events which represented a clear victory for Daghestan.
Since that time, many in both Makhachkala and Moscow have been waiting for the Russian response, but when it came yesterday in the form of the dismissal of Musayev, many were apparently mystified that the Russian government would permit itself to act so obviously on the basis of its anger rather than after more gimlet eyed calculation.
There are three reasons for this. First, by ousting a Daghestani from a Moscow post, the Russian government has severed one of the key ways in which it integrates outlying non-Russian areas, agreeing to name some non-Russians to top posts in the center in exchange for insisting on its right to appoint ethnic Russians in the republics.
Not only does that deprive each a key lobbyist in the other, but it raises the possibility that Moscow will soon insist on the departure of other senior Daghestanis in the Russian capital, such as deputy prosecutor general Sabir Kekhlerov and Constitutional Court Judge Gadis Gadzhiyev and that Daghestani officials will respond as they did in the Radchenko case.
Second, the dismissal of Musayev and possibly of more such non-Russians in the future will send back to the republic capitals precisely the kind of politically experienced and now newly ethnically sensitized non-Russian officials who will seek their revenge against Russians and who will likely help the more nationalistically inclined in their homelands.
And third, by taking this step, Moscow has further ethnicized political life, underscoring that the central government cares more about ethnicity than anything else. That may please the increasing number of ethnic Russians who want a “Russia for the Russians,” but it will certainly offend and radicalized the non-Russian quarter of the population.
In a place like Daghestan, already the second most unstable republic (after Ingushetia) in the Russian Federation, that could prove very serious indeed. On the very day that Musayev was being sacked, Moscow’s “Vremya novostei” featured a 4500-word article on how Daghestan is similar to and different from the rest of Russia (
It author, Ivan Sukhov, noted that Daghestanis love to quote their national poet Rasul Gamzatov who famously said “We never voluntarily joined Russia, and we will never voluntarily leave it.” For better or worse, Moscow has now taken an action that could lead mean many Daghestanis to continue to repeat the first part of that sentence but to forget the second.

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