Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Could the Deteriorating Situation in Daghestan Again Trigger a Wider War?

Paul Goble

New York, December 29 – According to a Daghestani analyst, “the campaign to destabilize” his republic both from within and without “is gathering force and is no longer under the control of either the Kremlin or Makhachkala,” a situation that means “private political games could lead to the largest armed conflict in the North Caucasus in the 21st century.”
In a comment posted on the Polit.ru portal today, Magomed Suleymanov catalogues some of the murky events of the last few weeks in that North Caucasus republic that was both a casus belli in 1999 and that because of the nature of its population could now lead to an even larger conflict with more parties involved (www.polit.ru/news/2009/12/29/dgstn.html).
A few days ago, Suleymanov notes, the FSB “accused” Tbilisi of preparing “a diversionary-terrorist group” that it planned to send into Daghestan to engage in “terrorist acts against the heating and energy system and the railway transport network,” plans that the Moscow special service said it was countering by beefing up Russian border guard facilities.
Given Georgian President Mihkiel Saakashvili’s statements about the North Caucasus, the way in which conflicts over the lack of heat and electric power led to public protests last winter, and uncertainty in Makhachkala over who will be the next republic leader, these charges appeared plausible even if they were completely self-serving from the FSB’s point of view.
Then today, Suleymanov continues, a Caucasus opposition website featured an interview with Said Khachuyev, head of the Chechen diaspora in Hamburg, who called on Georgia to recognize both Chechnya, which he said was “no longer” part of Russia, and Daghestan, if Tbilisi wants to play “big role” in the region.
In this way, the Polit.ru commentator says, “in the struggle for Daghestan are included not only local elites but external to Daghestan groups: Chechen Wahhabi groups and the Georgian special services,” a situation that is likely to be on display first in Derbent where a repeat election is scheduled and then in Makhachkala when a presidential candidate is named.
With regard to the first, Suleymanov notes, “not only electoral commissions are preparing for the new round of Derbent voting but also band formations,” a pattern that tragically has been true of the voting in that North Caucasus republic in the past and one certain to be on display as the date for the Derbent election approaches.
And concerning the second, the problems in Makhachkala are intensifying with each passing day that the Kremlin has failed to nominate its candidate for the top job – especially since it published a list of five names, including incumbent Mukhu Aliyev, more than a month ago.
Marko Shakhbasov, the editor in chief of Makhachkala’s weekly “Novoye delo,” told Suleymanov that “the behavior of many deputies completely coincides with the attitudes dominating now in the republic’s bureaucracy” where “ no one knows who will be the new president and each fears to take any step” which might offend the individual chosen.
These tensions were exacerbated by the appearance of what purported to be a letter from the deputies to Russia’s procurator general Yury Chaika concerning the situation in the republic. After its appearance on a local website, Suleymanov says, several of its signatories denied that they had even seen the appeal, let alone signed it.
One deputy, Rizvan Isayev, said that he did nto know “who stood behind this initiative,” describing it as “a typical provocation.” When he heard about it, he said he would not sign such a thing, and the appearance of a document bearing his signature among others was thus a falsification: “the signature which is on the appeal,” he said, “is not mine.”
Daghestan, as many Moscow commentators have pointed out, is with the possible exception of Ingushetia the most unstable republic in the North Caucasus. That has the effect of encouraging those on all sides interested in fishing in troubled waters, even if any particular report may not be in fact true.
But there is another reason for focusing on Daghestan as a potential detonator of a broader conflict in the region, albeit it is one that Suleymanov does not mention. His republic is far and away the most Islamic of any in the entire Russian Federation, something that ensures that what happens there will affect the more than 20 million Muslims of Russia.
Just how Islamic Daghestan now is was underscored by Maksud Sadikov, rector of the North Caucasus University Center of Islamic Education. He noted that 55 percent of all mosques in Russia are in Daghestan, 85 percent of Russia’s hajis live there, and 90 percent of all Islamic educational institutions are on its territory (http://www.islam.ru/pressclub/vslux/qaudlarus/).

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