Police in Daghestan intervened on January 24 to prevent a planned large-scale auto-rally from Kizlyar, in the north of the republic, via the Chechen town of Gudermes, to the southern coastal town of Derbent.
The event was said to have been organized “spontaneously” by supporters of Sagid Murtazaliyev, an influential Avar politician who was removed last year from his post as head of the Daghestan subsidiary of the federal Pension Fund and charged in absentia with contract killings and financing terrorism. His current whereabouts are not known.
It is conceivable, however, that the initiative originated with Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, a close associate of Murtazaliyev. When the criminal case against Murtazaliyev was announced, Kadyrov publicly implied that the charges brought against him were unfounded. Kadyrov characterized Murtazaliyev as “a genuine patriot and a true son of Russia,” and as his “brother and loyal friend.”
The stated rationale for the planned motor rally was to demonstrate support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and for Kadyrov, who launched a series of vicious verbal attacks two weeks ago on Russia’s extra-parliamentary opposition. Kadyrov has said the attacks constituted a legitimate response to what he called efforts by “traitors” and “enemies of the people” to use the current unfavorable economic situation to undermine stability in Russia.
Kadyrov followed up on his controversial statements by convening a mass meeting in Grozny on January 22 intended to demonstrate widespread popular support for his position and, by extension, for any measures Putin considers appropriate to counter the alleged threat to “national unity” posed by the political activists in question. He claimed that the estimated 800,000 participants at that meeting included some who had travelled in a column of some 500 vehicles from Daghestan.
The planned rally in Daghestan was envisaged as the continuation of the Grozny rally, one of its organizers, Akhmedpasha Amirilayev, told the website kavpolit.com. “We wanted to show that not only the Chechen, but also the Daghestani people show solidarity with the course of country’s president and with the patriotic pronouncements of Ramzan Kadyrov,” Amirilayev was quoted as saying.
Amirilayev suggested that if anyone except Murtazaliyev’s supporters had come up with the idea of the “spontaneous” motor rally, the police would not have intervened to thwart it. The organizers had failed to obtain official police permission for the undertaking.
Instead of proceeding south from Kizlyar with additional participants joining the convoy in the towns of Kizilyurt, Makhachkala, Kaspiisk and Izberbash, Murtazaliyev’s backers had to content themselves with isolated rallies. Some 500 vehicles participated in a rally in Makhachkala, including some from Chechnya representing Kadyrov. Photos of the Makhachkala rally show cars displaying posters of Kadyrov together with Murtazaliyev, or of Kadyrov and Putin. Some vehicles reportedly displayed pictures of Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov.
As noted above, it is not impossible that Kadyrov himself, convinced by the Kremlin’s failure to distance itself from, let alone condemn his most egregious pronouncements that he can act, speak, and behave as he pleases with impunity, was behind a PR stunt intended to present his disgraced buddy Murtazaliyev in a favorable light. Analyst Abbas Gallyamov observed that Kadyrov has succeeded in persuading the Russian leadership to side with him against the marginalized opposition, and that consequently, “he now has carte blanche…whatever he does in the next few months, no one will touch him.”
At the same time, it is worth noting that the Daghestani police who intervened to prevent the planned motor rally take their orders from the federal Interior Ministry, which seemingly is still prepared to stand up to Kadyrov.