18 November 2017

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THE DAGESTAN GAMBIT OF THE KREMLIN

Cooperation with local clans to be the main challenge for the new head of Dagestan, Vladimir VASILYEV

Author:

01.11.2017

“I have not come to you alone; Russia has come to you,” said the new head of the Republic of Dagestan, Vladimir Abdualiyevich Vasilyev, on October 5 in the hall of the People's Assembly of the Republic of Dagestan in Makhachkala. He meant both financial assistance and close attention of federal ministries to the needs of the republic.

Using short and clear language, sort of a military gesture, the retired colonel-general Vasilyev tried to convey to Dagestanis the essence of his mission entrusted by the Russian president.

In particular, he assured that Dagestan will get serious support from the federal budget in 2018, but immediately stressed the need to be responsible for spending “Russian money”. In an attempt to pacify Dagestani officials, he, as if by chance, recalled his recent trip to Syria, where he met with Bashar Assad and the head of the ruined city of Aleppo, whose son was killed by terrorists. “Can you imagine what they feel?” asked Vasilyev looking around the room. He then continued by explaining that any problem must be felt and blocked from gathering the momentum. “Social problems often mature for a long time and end tragically. This should be prevented.”

Then he warned that nobody should ever try to ask for someone and bribe the officials. “I am a concrete person. If someone took up work, he must accomplish it. Otherwise, he will leave his position no matter who solicited for him. And I mean it so that we understand each other with no offense.”

He also commented about the personnel policy quite definitely: “I have an advantage; I do not belong to any of the Dagestani nationalities. My father is Kazakh, and my mother is Russian. And I think respecting each other, honoring traditions, we will choose staff not according to national quota, but according to talents and abilities”.

 

The clan system

The core of problems in Dagestan is explained conventionally by the complexity of the national issue. After all, the republic hosts more than one hundred ethnic groups. To ensure the most complete representation of ethnic groups in the legislative and executive bodies, the principle of recruitment according to national quotas has been in effect. However, this led to the formation of clans and groups of influence based on ethnicity. These groups compete among themselves and do not tolerate “aliens”.

Bribery, theft and nepotism flourish, subsidies from the federal budget grow, but do not reach the destination.

Combating rampant banditry and terrorism in Dagestan has been a particularly relevant issue over the years. Hundreds of civilians die annually in the republic because of explosions or bandit attacks.

 

Strengthening the vertical of power

With the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin in 2012, relations with the heads of constituent entities of the Russian Federation began transforming into the strengthening of vertical power. Recruitment is based on the principle of controllability from the Center and independence from local elites.

It is likely that the Ph.D. thesis of the FSB Lieutenant General Mikhail Belousov, who was responsible for interethnic and religious relations in the presidential office in 2012, “Ethnic elites of the Northern Caucasus: the experience of sociological analysis,” was taken as a basis for work in this complex region.

The thesis claims that the elites of the Northern Caucasus resist economic and political reforms for the sake of preserving their power. This contributes to the development of opposition based on national separatist ideology. The Kremlin is forced to support the old elite, which favors such a status quo.

“... Local authorities are interested in maintaining internal ethnic conflicts in order to have an excuse for emergency measures and justify the presence of military troops in the republics. The reluctance of the old elite to establish any form of dialogue with representatives of national movements radicalizes these movements and weakens moderate and compromising potential in them. As a result, this can lead to a dangerous situation when extreme radicals with nationalist sentiments can seize the power after regular elections or mass explosions of the discontent,” writes the FSB general in his work.

The first attempt to establish order in Dagestan was undertaken with the appointment of Ramazan Abdulatipov as the acting president. As he mainly worked outside Dagestan for many years, Abdulatipov was equidistant from all local elites, clans and other intra-republican relations.

Doctor of Philosophy, member of parliament, former Minister of National Policy and Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Abdulatipov has a wealth of managerial experience at federal level and in all respects was the person who could accomplish the entrusted mission. Belousov also mentions him in his scientific work as an expert on interethnic relations.

 

High expectations

Tired of corrupt officials, clan fights, poverty and banditry, the people of Dagestan has enthusiastically welcomed the news of Abdulatipov’s appointment. His ratings were very high: 75-82%.

During his first year of tenure, Abdulatipov has constantly stressed the importance to restore public confidence in the authorities: “We can talk a lot about the economy and culture. But the well-being of a person, restoration of his dignity and the dignity of our country are more important for me. The authorities should work for this.”

It would seem that the words of a recognized orator, philosopher, and writer should have been the most effective tool for administering the peoples of Dagestan. However, the dialogue did not work.

Perhaps mistakes in personnel matters, unsolvable problems in the housing and communal services, permanent interruptions in payment of salaries and pensions, and many more would not be so sharply condemned by society, if Abdulatipov did not allow himself very rash statements that set up residents of the republic against him .

He called the hymn of Dagestan, once a nationwide discussion, a funeral and replaced it. In response to the indignation of residents with constant traffic jams on the roads of Makhachkala, the capital city, because of regular presidential motorcades, he joked with a smile: “You condemn me throughout a year; cannot I condemn you at least once?”. When the national wrestling team, a pride of the nation, left the championship of Russia in May 2016, outraged by the biased attitude of judges and the federation, everyone, including rivals from other regions of Russia, supported the team’s decision. Instead, the head of Dagestan called it an escape, implying the athletes were cowards...

These and other statements of Abdulatipov, many of which became popular expressions, coupled with the problems in the economy and social life of the republic, led to almost completely lost of public trust in the president. Abdulatipov’s rating has been catastrophically declining and has not risen above 10% in 2016.

The head of Dagestan has also failed to establish good relations with Moscow. Personnel policy, which gave hopes of change in the first months of 2013, turned into a return of old, discredited staff, who were mainly incompetent but loyal to Abdulatipov residents of his native Tlyaratinsky district. The economy of the republic has remained one of the most subsidized economies. The amount of subsidies, on the contrary, grew from year to year, contrary to Abdulatipov's earlier declaration of refusal. In 2016, the federal budget allocated a record 47 billion rubles, were increased by another 7 billion rubles which in 2017. The Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation and the Federal Treasury found serious violations in the republican budget. It follows from the tables and diagrams of Rosstat that the gross regional product (GRP) of Dagestan has fallen below 100% for the first time since 1998. The rating of investment has remained the same attractiveness (3C1 – low potential, high risk) since 2013.

Dagestan also received serious complaints for mass frauds during the September 2005 elections to the State Duma and the National Assembly. Chairman of the Central Electoral Committee Ella Pamfilova Responsibility attributed the responsibility for violations to the head of the republic.

Apparently, it would be unfair to say that the rule of Abdulatipov turned out to be a disaster for Dagestan. He certainly had a number of achievements that he could be proud of. First and utmost is the successes in combating crime and terrorism. Many believe that this is not his work, but federal law enforcement agencies. We should admit however, that the federals were in Dagestan until 2013, but the real success was achieved under Abdulatipov.

Abdulatipov’s other major achievements relate to issues of culture, education, tourism, and also some of the implemented infrastructure projects.

At the same time, Abdulatipov made many mistakes. Firstly, he has alienated the residents of the republic, which has eventually contributed to his early resignation.

 

Time for reflection

There are fears that Vasilyev, who does not have his own team and is not familiar with the balance of power in the republic, will have to rely on one of the clans or quarrel with everyone. Both options are not the best.

The experts also consider the following scenario: the new acting head of Dagestan will assume a role of arbiter, distributing posts among representatives of influential clans, but retaining the right to a decisive vote. This option is not perfect, but the Kremlin’s main issue on agenda is the forthcoming presidential elections in Russia next spring.

Therefore, one should not expect sharp statements and actions from Vasilyev during the next six months. His minimum task for this period is to smooth acute social problems in Dagestan. Local elite will not do anything either. There is no need to quarrel with Moscow, and time is needed in order to take a closer look at the new head.

Baku will also look at him, as this region is not just a neighboring territory of Russia. Azerbaijanis in Dagestan are one of the title nations. Common centuries-old history and traditionally good economic and cultural relations unite our nations. We also have a common enemy - international terrorism, which until recently has felt quite freely on the territory of Dagestan.

Being an expert on security and anti-corruption, Vasilyev was definitely dispatched to Dagestan to intensify combat against terrorism. This shows that without coordinating his actions with Baku, he simply cannot accomplish this mission. Was this the reason for the visit of Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to Baku in late September? It is quite logical to assume that by discussing the issues of security cooperation between the two countries in Baku, Putin's envoy could confidentially convey the information so important for trusting relations.

Vladimir Vasilyev will remain in charge as the head of the republic until September 2018. This period is quite enough for both Moscow and Baku to appreciate the quality of his accomplishments.



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