Following a week of leaks, rumors, disclaimers, and denials, it seemed late last week that Republic of Daghestan President Magomedsalam Magomedov would not, after all, be dismissed in the immediate future. But on January 27 Russian President Vladimir Putin named
former Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, an Avar from Daghestan, acting Republic of Daghestan head to replace Magomedov.
It is still unclear why Putin decided to replace Magomedov, whose father served as chairman of Daghestan's collective leadership from 1987-2006, two years before his term in office expires in February 2015.
The frenetic speculation about Magomedov's prospects was triggered on January 17 by a laconic tweet by Russian State Duma deputy Aleksandr Khinshteyn (United Russia) to the effect that one of the North Caucasus republican heads -- Khinshteyn did not specify who, other potential candidates for dismissal being Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Kabardino-Balkaria Republic head Arsen Kanokov -- could be dismissed within the next few days. That tweet was erased from Khinshteyn's account within hours. The independent Daghestani Russian-language weekly "Chernovik" reported the same day -- without divulging its source -- that Magomedov had met in Moscow on January 14 with Putin, who had asked him to resign voluntarily.
"Chernovik" also reported
that Abdulatipov, 66, a Russian State Duma deputy who served most recently as Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan, would be named acting republic head in Magomedov's place. Journalists tried unsuccessfully for days to contact Abdulatipov for comment on those reports. Finally, Abdulatipov said
he would find it impossible to turn down the post if it was offered him, especially as he is convinced that no one is better qualified than he "to impose a degree of stability." And on January 27 he announced
that Putin had indeed appointed him to replace Daghestan’s current head.
The initial confusion over Magomedov's future lasted a week. "Chernovik" reported
that Daghestan's parliament would meet on January 18 to debate and accept Magomedov's resignation, but that prediction proved wrong. Instead, presidential press service head Zubayru Zubayruyev stated that the president, government, and parliament were "working normally
." Zubayruyev claimed to be unaware of the provenance of the rumors of Magomedov's imminent dismissal, which he said were totally unsubstantiated.
Magomedov, 48, himself reaffirmed
at what was billed as a scheduled meeting on January 21 with senior Daghestani officials to discuss the socioeconomic situation that "we are working normally despite the rumors." He toured various agro-industrial enterprises the same day.
Magomedov then flew to Moscow on January 22 on what Zubayruyev said was "a working visit
." According to "Chernovik," Magomedov met late on January 23 with Putin. The Kremlin website, however, does not mention any such meeting among Putin's engagements, and the Russian presidential administration declined to confirm it had taken place. The news nonetheless reached Makhachkala
late that evening that Putin had granted Magomedov a reprieve on conditions that remain unclear.
Just hours earlier, the majority of Daghestan's parliament deputies and district administrators had gathered in Makhachkala with the intention of convening an emergency session of parliament and adopting a formal statement affirming their collective support for him. They were dissuaded from doing so by a senior North Caucasus Federal District official who conveyed a personal message
from Magomedov asking them not to rock the boat but to trust in Putin's judgment. Whether and to what extent that show of support was crucial in bringing about what Minister for Information Policy and the Media Nariman Gadjiyev termed "victory!!!"
Similarly unclear are Putin's precise motives for wanting at this juncture to replace Magomedov, who had been named republic head in late February 2010 despite a last-ditch campaign
by incumbent Mukhu Aliyev to secure a second term.
Analysts have suggested two possible explanations for what happened. First, that the decision to dismiss Magomedov was taken by Putin personally, with no input from other political players, and was prompted either by the admittedly volatile situation in Daghestan or by Magomedov's personnel failings and errors of judgment. "Chernovik" cited an eye-wateringly extravagant New Year's party in Dubai's most exclusive hotel and Magomedov's public rejection of Putin's proposal
to deprive the North Caucasus republics of the right to hold elections for the post of republic head as possible contributing factors.
Second, the initiative originated with one or another of the most influential Moscow-based Daghestani oligarchs, Suleiman Kerimov, or the brothers Ziyaudin and Magomed Magomedov. (They are Avars, and thus not related to Magomedsalam, who is a Dargin. Kerimov is a Lezgin.) Both Kerimov and the Magomedov brothers are believed to bear a grudge against Magomedov. Kerimov reportedly wants his right-hand man, State Duma deputy Magomed Gadjiyev, to replace him. Whom the Magomedov brothers favor, or whether one of them aspires to the post, is not known.
Kerimov is believed to have played a key role in engineering Magomedov's nomination as republic head, in return for which he was reportedly promised
the opportunity to acquire the Makhachkala airport and seaport, but those deals never materialized; hence, some analysts infer, Kerimov's desire for revenge.
It is conceivable that Putin granted Magomedov a reprieve in return for a pledge that he will not seek a second term and his stated support
for the controversial legislative amendment that in theory offers federation subjects the choice not to hold direct elections for republic head. "Izvestia" reported
on January 24, the day after the fateful meeting between Putin and Magomedov, that all the North Caucasus republic heads have informed the Russian presidential administration that direct elections would be dangerous, and it would be preferable for Putin to appoint a republic head in consultation with the regional parliament. But Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov subsequently denied that he had made any such statement. Kadyrov said he foresees no problems with holding direct elections, which he termed
the optimum way to register popular sentiment.
Alternatively, Putin may be so frustrated by the infighting between rival Daghestani interest groups both in Moscow and Makhachkala that he decided to appoint Abdulatipov, who is not part of any of those networks and has never held a senior post in his home republic, to clean house.
The big questions now are how long he will remain acting republic head and who will be selected as Magomedov's permanent successor. In a recent interview
, Abdulatipov listed as the three most serious problems Daghestan faces as security -- meaning the ongoing battle against the Islamic insurgency; unemployment; and restoring public trust in the authorities. None of those problems can be resolved overnight. But given time and the Kremlin's support, Abdulatipov is as qualified to tackle them as anyone.
Abdulatipov did not mention specifically interethnic relations, on which he is an acknowledged expert. Nor did he imply that he considers Moscow's current policy toward the North Caucasus in any way flawed, although it differs in many respects from the draft nationality policy he presented to then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1995.
The Avars, the largest of Daghestan's 14 titular nationalities, are scheduled to convene a congress in March
to select their candidate for the February 2015 ballot for republic head. Possible choices are Abdulatipov and Pension Fund head Sagid Murtazaliyev.