Vienna, October 22 – The recent upsurge in violence in Daghestan reflects less the growth of Islamist influence than a struggle by various ethnic and family groups in that republic to influence the outcome of a unique form of election there, one in which “the voters” are not the people of that North Caucasus republic but rather officials in the Kremlin administration.
Indeed, Igor Boykov argues, the same rise in violence occurred there in 2005, the last time Moscow had to decide who would be the next president of that republic, and consequently, the politics of Makhachkala and Moscow rather than Islam or even ethnicity per se constitute “the key to understanding” what is going on (www.apn.ru/publications/article22076.htm).
Moscow media reporting about Daghestan and the North Caucasus not only increasingly resemble reportage from a war zone – yesterday officials announced that terrorist crimes in that region had risen 57 percent over the last year (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/161019/) but increasingly offers the same explanations, Boykov says.
On the one hand, Russian officials routinely insist that the problems in the North Caucasus reflect either outside Islamist influence or deep-seated social-economic conditions. And on the other, Russian critics say that Moscow has brought much of the problem on itself by its policy of offering regional elites “money in exchange for external declarations of loyalty.”
But while there is some truth in each of these assertions, Boykov concedes, “the key to understanding many negative processes which are taking place in Daghestan today” is to be found in the peculiar “political situation in the republic” in the last year of the term of Daghestan President Mukhu Aliyev.
The violence, the Moscow analyst suggests, is part of this “as it were ‘pre-election’ year, with only this difference that the voters in this case are not the population of Daghestan but a group of senior bureaucrats in the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation” who will decide who will be Daghestan’s president.
“For precisely their ‘votes’,” Boykov continues, both declared and shadowy pretenders to the highest post [in Daghestan] are now carrying out a struggle” in which they do not feel constrained from using violent “means” if those will have an impact this time around just as they appear to have done in 2005. (He concedes that other groups may be exploiting this infighting.)
As many have observed, Daghestani politics is both profoundly ethnic – until Vladimir Putin intervened in the name of “majoritarian” democracy, positions in the Makhachkala government were allocated according to an ethnic quota – and equally or even more profoundly criminalized, making ties between politicians and criminals a necessity.
Mukhu Aliyev, a former member of the Soviet party nomenklatura who, Boykov says, is “the last of the Mohicans,” is somewhat different, far less corrupt and violent than those around him, and thus in many ways far less effective in implementing his policies and those of the Russian government in Moscow.
At the same time, Boykov says, one should not “idealize” Aliyev because he is very much part of the existing system and has engaged in massive falsification of election results on behalf of Putin’s United Russia Party, most recently in the much-disputed mayoral election in Derbent. But those who come after him are likely to be far more openly criminal.
That is what it takes for politicians there to be effective, Boykov says, and thus “all summer and all fall,” they have organized “explosions, murders, special operations and the kidnapping of people,” not only in Derbent, which attracted the attention of the Moscow media, but throughout much of the republic.
In order to understand just how Daghestani politics are played, he continues, it is necessary to dispense with three myths that Moscow holds dear. First, while Daghestan ranks among the poorest republics according to official statistics, its enormous shadow economy means that incomes are higher there than most think.
Second, the violence in Daghestan is highly concentrated. Almost all of it has taken place in only six of the republic’s 42 regions, a reflection of differences in nationality and attachment to Islam. And third, the number of militants is fairly small -- certainly fewer than 200 – but they or those using them know how to exploit the media to magnify every action.
Indeed, Boykov argues, “the militants are carrying out a quite effective information-psychological war,” creating an atmosphere in Daghestan that allows them to extract money from government officials and to keep the population in a state of panic, a situation which means “the powers that be control the territory [of the republic] but not the minds of its population.”
“Unfortunately,” the Moscow analyst continues, the situation is likely to deteriorate further unless or until a new set of rulers or new Moscow policies are put in place. “The increasing degradation of the system of power … the growing distrust of the population, [and] the struggle for power of various classes and groups” guarantee that.
Moreover, Moscow itself is making the situation worse, Boykov suggests, because the it does not have a well-designed policy or even understand what is happening because it will not employ experts who could help. Such people, he adds, would have to criticize those above them, and that is something, those in “the power vertical” are not prepared to tolerate.