The accusations of murder, attempted murder, and “financing terrorism” leveled against two prominent Daghestani political figures have mobilized thousands of people in their support -- including Ramzan Kadyrov. The Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya has publicly implied that the charges are unfounded; he described one of the men, former Olympic wrestling champion Sagid Murtazaliyev, as “a genuine patriot and a true son of Russia” and as his “brother and loyal friend.”
Kadyrov is not the only prominent figure to rush to the men’s defense. Former Daghestan Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Kurbanov denounced the deployment of federal security personnel backed by armored carriers to search the homes of Murtazaliyev and his brother-in-law Andrei Vinogradov, head of Daghestan’s northernmost Kizlyar municipal district, as both illegal and a colossal waste of public money. Kurbanov appealed to Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika to clarify who initiated the criminal case against Vinogradov and Murtazaliyev, and on the basis of what evidence.
Kurbanov further argued that it is “inadmissible and wrong” that the Investigative Committee, which is subordinate to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, should be “beyond criticism.”
Kurbanov -- who is now a member of the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament house -- is close to Kadyrov.
Following a search of his home early on July 27 that reportedly yielded a number of unregistered firearms, Vinogradov was transported to Moscow, where he was formally charged and remanded in pretrial detention for two months.
Murtazaliyev’s whereabouts are unclear. The independent weekly Chernovik reported that he was alerted to the impending criminal case by senior law-enforcement officials over a month ago and immediately left Russia. On July 30, allies announced that he had been in Dubai but later traveled to Germany for knee surgery and was recuperating there.
According to Kurbanov, Murtazaliyev underwent knee-replacement surgery on July 20.
Sagid Murtazaliyev speaks at a rally in 2005
On July 29, two days after the searches and Vinogradov’s detention, some 3,500 to 4,000 people attended a rally in Kizlyar in support of him and Murtazaliyev. Murtazaliyev had served as Kizlyar municipality head from 2007 to 2010, when he was named to head the Daghestan subsidiary of the federal Pension Fund. Speakers at the rally said that Murtazaliyev had revitalized the district’s stagnating economy and personally funded the construction of several schools and kindergartens. They credited Vinogradov with mobilizing police and security personnel in 2010-2011 to crack down on the North Caucasus insurgency. In 2013, the Kizlyar municipal council was ranked as the most effective in Daghestan.
Rally participants adopted a resolution addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin listing the two men’s merits and achievements and questioning the charges against them. Daghestan Pension Fund employees likewise addressed an appeal to Putin to intervene on behalf of Murtazaliyev, describing him as “a brilliant leader” and “one of Daghestan’s most worthy sons.”
In light of Murtazaliyev’s imputed ambition to become mayor of Makhachkala, Daghestan’s capital, his supporters linked the move against the two men to the municipal elections to be held in September. That hypothesis is dubious, however. True, Murtazaliyev is said to have made clear several years ago that he wanted that post. But in the interim, the rules have been changed, and direct elections for the post of mayor have been abolished.
Moreover, since the spectacular arrest two years ago of then-Mayor Said Amirov, Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov has scrupulously abided by the unwritten agreement that the post of Makhachkala mayor is reserved for a Dargin. (The Dargins are the second-largest of Daghestan’s 14 titular nationalities after the Avars, who account for some 29 percent of the total population of 3 million. Both Abdulatipov and Murtazaliyev are Avars.)
Furthermore, it is clear from the detailed account of the house searches and Vinogradov’s detention given by Chernovik that the decision to move against him and Murtazaliyev was taken in Moscow, not Makhachkala, and that Daghestan’s law-enforcement agencies were kept in the dark until after the event.
The weekly goes on to examine two alternative explanations for the criminal case against Murtazaliyev and Vinogradov, taking into account that the charges against them of the murder of two officials in Kizlyar in 2010 were reportedly based on new testimony from the men who were tried and sentenced for those killings. If those men were induced to implicate Murtazaliyev and Vinogradov, it is unclear how and by whom.
The first alternative explanation is that the charges were orchestrated by Amirov, who was sentenced in July 2014 to 10 years in prison on a charge of plotting to kill Murtazaliyev by downing his plane with a ground-to-air missile. Murtazaliyev was a key witness for the prosecution at Amirov’s trial and had told an interviewer in 2013 that a senior official had taken out a contract on him.
But it is questionable whether Amirov, who is now being tried on separate charges of murder and terrorism, still exercises enough influence to engineer a criminal case against his nemesis. Chernovik cited unnamed sources as saying that consent to do so was facilitated by a $6 million sweetener.
The second hypothesis, floated earlier by Moscow-based analyst Konstantin Kazyonin -- and considered by Chernovik to be more plausible -- is that the accusations against Murtazaliyev are a move to discredit his patron Kadyrov.
The weekly surmises that a faction in Moscow including senior members of the federal security bodies and the National Antiterrorism Committee may be out to curtail Kadyrov’s power, which already extends beyond the North Caucasus. Murtazaliyev was a key component of Kadyrov’s influence across the north of Daghestan, and his elevation to the post of Makhachkala mayor, had it taken place, would have given Kadyrov indirect control over the city.
In his first public comment on the affair to date, Abdulatipov affirmed on July 30 that insofar as the crimes of which Vinogradov and Murtazaliyev are suspected “took place so long ago,” meaning several years before Abdulatipov’s appointment in January 2013 as republic head, assessing whether or not the charges against them are justified is problematic.
Abdulatipov acknowledged Vinogradov’s contribution to Kizlyar’s “notable achievements in the sphere of socioeconomic development” and Murtazaliyev’s positive track record as head of the Daghestan branch of the Pension Fund. At the same time, he stressed his single-minded commitment to weeding out corruption and ensuring that the republic’s leadership is composed exclusively of “competent, law-abiding persons of integrity.”
On August 3, Abdulatipov said the arrests of Vinogradov, Murtazaliyev, and Buynaksk municipal district head Daniyal Shikhsaidov, the son of parliament speaker Khizri Shikhsaidov, and the criminal case opened against Kizilyurt municipal district head Bagautdin Adjamatov are part of a comprehensive crackdown on embezzlement of budget funds and collaboration with the North Caucasus insurgency.
Abdulatipov warned against convening mass meetings in support of persons charged with such offenses, and advised government and municipal officials who want to lobby on behalf of friends or relatives they believe have been wrongly accused to resign in order to devote themselves full-time to such efforts.
The Spiritual Board of Muslims of Daghestan, with which both Murtazaliyev and disgraced former Deputy Prime Minister Abusyupyan Kharkharov reportedly have close ties, has similarly made clear in a statement on August 4 that it cannot and will not intervene with state bodies on behalf of officials accused of breaking the law.