Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Window on Eurasia: By Not Selecting a Daghestani Leader Quickly, the Kremlin is Making a Bad Situation Worse, Latynina Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 23 – Moscow’s failure to appoint a new president of Daghestan quickly after deciding to publish a list of five candidates a month ago, “Novaya gazeta” commentator Yuliya Latynina says, is generating new tensions in that already extremely unstable North Caucasus republic.
Not only does that create the impression of a lack of decisiveness in Moscow, Latynina says, but the delay has sparked “a uniquely Daghestani” form of campaign for the job, one waged not by public relations experts but rather by bribes and bullets, a pattern that means some of the candidates may not “live to the finish” (
The Moscow specialist on the Caucasus acknowledges that she was a backer of the current Daghestani president Mukhu Aliyev when he was appointed because he was known “not to take [bribes] and not to kill people,” qualities that she says she had thought would open the way to an improvement in conditions there.
“But in the end it turned out that President Aliyev did not have the two main qualities needed for administering the republic – money and guns,” and consequently, the situation there has deteriorated because he “did not remove the murderers, punish the thieves,” and “most fatally,” fought with the powerful oligarch Suleyman Kerimov.
(Kerimov had no interest in becoming president of the republic initially, although some in Moscow backed that idea and Latynina says he would be a good candidate. More recently, Kerimov appears to have changed his mind, she says, but for some reasons the Kremlin did not include him on its list.)
More than most places, Latynina continues, “Daghestan must not be ruled by a weakling.” It can and should be administered by someone loyal to Moscow but who is at the same time not [seen to be] a marionette.” Combining those qualities is not easy, but it is complicated by three additional factors, she writes.
First, there is the problem of Islamic extremists, whom Latynina labels as “Wahhabis.” Under Aliyev’s rule, they “have been transformed from marginals into a major force; they take tribune from the budget and business.” And consequently, “de facto, now any budget funds given to the republic go to financing Wahhabism.”
At present, she says, “people [in Daghestan] are afraid not to pay up because even if they report someone and the powers that be kill him, his friends will come and kill the informer. And this is the end. Beyond that is [only a situation like that in] Somalia.”
Second, Latynina says, is the problem of the bureaucrats. Their corruption helps the Wahhabis by providing “an illustration of [their] thesis” that all the problems in the republic are because “unbelievers rule us.” And officials are intimidated by the fact that the Wahhabis can kill or wound them largely with impunity.
And third, the leader of Daghestan has to deal with the problem that Ramzan Kadyrov represents. The Chechen leader can “at any moment” speak with Putin, something that “no president of Daghestan will ever have the chance to do, a difference that has the most serious consequences for Daghestan and its government.
That is because “the heads of certain regions [of Daghestan] will become de facto the vassals of Kadyrov and not Makhachkala.” According to Latynina, “this is already taking place, although one official involved, Khasavyurt district head Alimsultan Alkhamatov, was killed,” albeit for “private” rather than “political” reasons.
All the candidates on this list have problems that the regional and Moscow media have been pointing to over the last weeks: the incumbent Mukhu Aliyev, the son of the former republic head Magomedsalam Magomedov, former Smolensk senator Magomed Magomedov, and vice prime minister Magomed Abdullayaev,
That publicity may have prompted the Kremlin to go slow on the appointment, Latynina says. According to her sources, she continues, a new Kremlin favorite is Magomed Abdullayev, someone who has spent his entire live “outside of Daghestan” but who had the same dissertation advisor that President Dmitry Medvedev did.
Such calculations, she concludes “are not even the behavior of a metropolitan center toward a colony.” They are simply evidence of the minds in Moscow going blank concerning what to do in a critical situation, a development that does not bode well either for the North Caucasus or for Russia as a whole.

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