On almost a daily basis, Dagestan is rife with explosions, murders, rumors and arrests. All this makes the situation in the republic bleak, especially against the backdrop of the approaching Olympics in Sochi. For the first time, North Caucasians in general, and Dagestanis in particular, are in such a state that they do not care about the Olympic Games. In Dagestan, 2014 started with a series of counter-terrorist operations by the Russian Ministry of Interior and the Federal Security Service (FSB) in various parts of the republic (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/73122).

While news of rebel actions has become routine in Dagestan, arrests of high-profile republican officials still produce heated debates in the republic. This latest such case involved Dagestani Deputy Prime Minister Magomedgusein Nasrutdinov, who was recently arrested in Moscow (http://www.moidagestan.ru/blogs/18407/39886). The arrest was linked to an ongoing investigation of embezzlement and money laundering when Nasrutdinov was director of the Dagestani branch of Mezhregiongaz Ltd. and held other energy management positions in the regional government. According to unofficial information, one of the main reasons Nasrutdinov was arrested was the allegation that he had set up a private gas network company at government expense (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2388351).

Magomedgusein Nasrutdinov has been somewhat notorious in Dagestan. He is one of the richest and best known ethnic Kumyks, and his family is so famous in Dagestan a monument was dedicated to his grandfather in the city of Makhachkala during the Soviet period. Nasrutdinov’s father is considered to be the founder of the gas industry in the republic, which his son essentially inherited (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237009/).

The Nasrutdinov family is one of the five most influential Kumyk families in Dagestan and the arrest of Magomedgusein Nasrutdinov may be directed also against the Kumyks’ demands that Dagestani mountaineers stop encroaching on the lowlands and that the Kumyks be given political representation that is proportionate to their population in the republic (http://vk.com/kumyk_protest).

The political activism of the Kumyks, the third largest indigenous ethnic group in the republic (http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/new_site/perepis2010/croc/results2.html), contradicts claims made by Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov about progress toward political stability. Abdulatipov knows that behind every ethnic upheaval are influential ethnic leaders who are trying to protect their privileges, which in many cases they inherited from their parents after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The arrest of Magomedgusein Nasrutdinov is part of the approach Moscow has been taking to the republic since the spring of 2013. On March 22, 2013, the Russian Investigative Committee detained Makhachkala’s chief of police, Raip Ashikov, in connection with the assassination of Kaspiysk city councilman Magomedgaji Aliev. Ashikov was also suspected of ties to the insurgency (http://kavkasia.net/Russia/2013/1364325871.php).

Last June’s arrest of Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, an ethnic Dargin, was a surprising turn of events that had seemed quite improbable (http://kavpolit.com/vrio-dagestana-i-arest-saida-amirova/). He was taken to Moscow, where a court ordered him held for possible involvement in the murder of Russian Investigative Committee investigator Arsen Gajibekov. In September 2013, a new criminal case was launched against Amirov for allegedly preparing a terrorist attack using a Strela surface-to-air missile system (http://expert.ru/2013/09/10/mer-terorist/), essentially recasting the former mayor as a terrorist.

By the autumn of 2013, Dagestanis thought that the arrests were over, but they were mistaken. In September, Dagestani First Deputy Minister for Industry and Energy Ruslan Gajibekov was arrested for involvement in the kidnapping of a teenager in the village of Primorsky. The kidnappers demanded that the victim’s father pay a ransom of approximately $1.5 million (http://kavpolit.com/kidneping-po-ministerski/?print).

Less significant figures also suffered in the government purge. Also last September, Dagestani First Deputy of Minister of Education and Science Idris Musaev was arrested (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/231116/). He is suspected of fraud involving the embezzlement of over $30,000 in government funds that were allocated for teachers’ training. On October 4, he was charged with large-scale fraud and suspended from his post. The authorities portrayed the arrest of the embezzler of the government funds as combating corruption and bribes—something that the public normally approves of. In late September, Umar Akaev, the head of the agricultural department in the administration of Dagestan’s Kumtorkali district, was detained for alleged fraud involving government funds equal to $5 million (http://ria.ru/incidents/20130924/965507135.html). The Dagestani authorities were showing that they were fighting corruption at all levels of the government.

Attacks on prominent ethnic leaders and business figures will continue until Moscow decides there are not threats to the political future of Ramazan Abdulatipov in Dagestan. Moscow has decided to put all of its chips on a single figure, and multiple other leaders are methodically being rooted out. The model seems to replicate that of contemporary Chechnya, with its ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, and allows Moscow to claim that the region is stable and fast-developing, even if the conflict with the armed jihadi resistance has reached a critical phase. However, the Chechen model is unlikely to work in Dagestan, and repercussions are bound to follow. The virus of jihadism runs so strong in Dagestan that it is not even comparable to Chechnya at the beginning of the 2000s.

Mairbek Vatchagaev
Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 15
January 24, 2014 — The Jamestown Foundation