Saturday, November 01, 2014

Daghestan Abolishes Direct Elections For Municipality Heads

Daghestani President Ramazan Abdulatipov is said to be frustrated at his lack of leverage over entrenched powerful local barons.

Having abolished last year direct elections for the post of republic head, Daghestan’s parliament adopted analogous legislation last month excluding the direct election of heads of municipalities.

Instead, in future the municipality head will be chosen by the municipal council. But whereas urban municipal councils will still be directly elected (either under the majoritarian or proportional system or a combination of the two), at the raion level they will be composed of the heads of lower level district councils plus additional members of the district councils in question (one such representative per 1,000 population). The independent weekly “Chernovik” has calculated that this will result in huge discrepancies in the size of the raion-level municipal councils (from 12 to 142 members). At present, the average is 19 to 25 members.

The new law thus effectively divides Daghestan’s population into two categories, one of which will have even less say than the other in determining who will (at least in theory) promote and defend the interests of the region or town in which they live.

The handful of parliament deputies representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation denounced the law as antidemocratic. Other opposition politicians have questioned its constitutionality. Albert Esedov, head of the regional branch of Yabloko, pointed out that the members of local councils were not elected with a specific mandate to elect the head of that municipality.

Magomed Magomedov of the Mediafakt news agency  and Milrad Fatullayev, chief editor of the weekly “Nastoyashchee vremya,” both objected that the constitution of the Russian Federation and the relevant federal legislation both give local councils the choice to determine how district heads are elected. Daghestan is nevertheless not the first or the only federal subject where direct elections for the post of municipality heads have been done away with: the oblasts of Volgograd and Rostov did so in May and July respectively.  

It is true that elections in Daghestan, whether to local councils or to the republic’s parliament, have frequently given rise to violence and bloodshed between supporters of rival candidates from different ethnic groups. Most commentators, however, interpret the new law as dictated in the first instance not by the need to preclude such clashes but by republic head Ramazan Abdulatipov’s frustration at his lack of leverage over entrenched powerful local barons.

At the same time, some of them doubt whether the new procedures will have the desired result, especially given that the officials in question will continue to serve in that capacity until the end of their elected term.

The widespread popular perception of Abdulatipov, a former diplomat and expert on interethnic relations whom Russian President Vladimir Putin named as  Daghestan’s acting leader in January 2013, is of a man enamored with the sound of his own voice who can hold forth until the cows come home on his vision of what kind of polity Daghestan should become. He is, however, prevented from transforming that vision into reality by powerful political and economic interest groups whose members perceive it as a threat to their own, diverging agendas and thus seek constantly to undermine him.  And having spent virtually his entire political career outside his home republic, Abdulatipov does not have a long-established and loyal support base to counter those efforts.

Some observers posit a direct link between the timing of the parliament vote on the new law and the ongoing standoff between Abdulatipov and Kurban Kurbanov, an Azerbaijani who has headed the southeastern Derbent Raion since 1998. Abdulatipov had announced in June that Kurbanov would step down, and hinted that he would be replaced by Justice Minister Azadi Ragimov (also an Azerbaijani). But Kurbanov refused to quit his post, arguing that he had been elected by popular vote and intended to serve until his term ends in March 2015. Kurbanov was arrested last week on a charge of exceeding his authority by illegally selling 56 hectares of state-owned land and is currently under house arrest.

A second possible reason why Abdulatipov wanted the law changed concerns the vacant post of mayor of Makhachkala.

On September 18, Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the 10-year prison term handed down in July by the North Caucasus Military Court to Said Amirov, who was suspended last year from the post of Makhachkala mayor after being arrested and charged with plotting to kill Sagid Murtazaliyev, the former wrestling champion who now heads the Daghestan subsidiary of the Federal Pension Fund. Murtazaliyev, whom the prosecution identified as Amirov’s main political opponent, was a key witness at his trial.  The Supreme Court ruling means that Amirov can now at last be formally removed from office.

The Makhachkala municipal council voted in late August, presumably at Abdulatipov’s bidding, to abolish direct elections for the post of mayor, but the Justice Ministry declined to endorse that decision. Direct elections would therefore have been unavoidable had the new legislation not been rushed through parliament. Some observers have suggested that in such a direct ballot, Murtazaliyev might have defeated the current acting mayor, Magomed Suleymanov, whom Abdulatipov named to that post in April.

A win by Murtazaliyev, who like Abdulatipov is an Avar, would have contravened the unwritten agreement that the post of Makhachkala mayor is reserved for a Dargin. The Dargins (who account for 17 percent of the total population of 2.96 million) are the second largest of Daghestan's 14 titular ethnic groups after the Avars (29.4 percent). Both Amirov and Suleymanov are Dargins, as are Abdulatipov’s predecessor as republic head, Magomedsalam Magomedov (currently a senior Kremlin official) and Magomedov’s father Magomedali, who served State Council chairman (de facto president) from 1994-2006.

The Dargins do not constitute a monolithic political lobby, but the various powerful Dargin families, including the Magomedovs, reportedly do not encroach on each other’s interests. At present the so-called “Mekegi clan,” named after a village in Daghestan’s Lavash Raion south of Makhachkala, is regarded as the most influential Dargin grouping. Its members include republican Prime Minister Abdusamad Gamidov; his brother Sirazhudin; their cousins on their mother’s side, Magomed Suleymanov and former Izberbash Mayor Abdulmedjid Suleymanov; State Procurement Committee Chairman Marat Dalgatov; and Djamaludin Omarov, who resigned in August after serving for 16 years as mayor of Kaspiisk.

In a further move to render the post of Makhachkala mayor less influential, and thus less attractive as a possible stepping-stone to that of republic head, Daghestan’s parliament has passed in the first reading a bill on dividing the capital into four separate municipalities, of which each would have its own head. According to Eduard Khidirov, who heads the Patriots of Russia parliament faction, one option being discussed behind the scenes is to restore municipality status to the predominantly Kumyk-populated settlement of Tarki on the city’s southwestern outskirts. The Kumyks launched a series of protests in June 2012 to demand that the villages of Tarki, Alburikent, and Kyakhulay be designated a separate municipal district, but without success.

Who Was Behind The Grozny Suicide Bombing?

The site of the deadly suicide bomb attack in Grozny on October 5.

A young man blew himself up late on October 5 in the center of Grozny, killing himself and four police officers and injuring a further 12 people. He has been identified as Opti Mudarov, 19, who reportedly disappeared without a trace two months ago from his home in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district.

According to Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, the suicide bomber, holding a pistol, approached a police post near the entrance to a theater where a concert was scheduled to begin as part of the celebrations for Grozny Day (marked on October 5, coinciding with Kadyrov’s birthday). When the police officers asked for his identity documents, he blew himself up.

Predictably, Kadyrov blamed the incident on the North Caucasus insurgency, which is plausible given that the bomber deliberately sought to kill the maximum number of police officers. It was Aslan Byutukayev (Amir Khamzat), head of the Chechen insurgency wing, who served as mentor to Magomed Yevloyev, the young Ingush man who blew himself up at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January 2011, killing at least 37 people.

On the other hand, Aliaskhab Kebekov (aka Amir Ali Abu-Mohammad), the Avar theologian who succeeded Doku Umarov as head of the Caucasus Emirate, has recently come out against suicide bombings as a tactic. And Byutukayev has pledged allegiance (together with seven fellow Chechen commanders) to Kebekov and is thus constrained to comply with his orders.

Assuming that Byutukayev did not deliberately defy Kebekov’s stated disapproval of suicide bombings, two possible explanations suggest themselves.

First, that Mudarov was acting of his own volition. In which case, the questions arise: Where did he get access to explosives? And what was his motivation? Was he one of the dozens of young believers rounded up and roughed up by Kadyrov’s security police since the start of the year on suspicion of preferring Salafism to Kadyrov’s reinvention of Chechen Sufism?

And second, that he was the unwitting victim of a false-flag recruitment by someone out to spoil Kadyrov’s birthday.

The insurgency website reported the suicide bombing just hours after it occurred, citing eyewitness reports suggesting that the death toll may be higher than officially stated but has not yet posted any claim of responsibility.

-- Liz Fuller

Georgian Prosecutor Orders Exhumation Of Former Prime Minister's Body

The late Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania was found dead in 2005.

Georgian prosecutor Revaz Nadoy announced on September 30 that the body of former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania will be exhumed and tests conducted by international pathologists in order to clarify the cause of his death. He did not specify a time frame.

Zhvania was found dead in a rented apartment in Tbilisi together with a friend, Kvemo Kartli Deputy Governor Rasul Yusupov, early on February 3, 2005. The postmortem concluded that the two men died of carbon-monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning gas heater.

But Zhvania's brother, Giorgi, has consistently rejected that ruling, citing circumstantial evidence that the two men had died at another location.

In 2012, he openly accused three former senior government officials -- former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, former Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze, and former Prosecutor-General Zurab Adeishvili -- of having moved the two bodies to the apartment where they were subsequently found and faked the evidence of asphyxiation. At the same time, Giorgi Zhvania stressed that he was not accusing the three men of murder.

In March 2014, photographic evidence surfaced that seemed to corroborate Giorgi Zhvania's doubts about the circumstances of his brother's death. Photos were uploaded to YouTube apparently taken at the time of the postmortem that -- according to current Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili -- showed that Zhvania had sustained head injuries prior to his death

Levan Chachua, the pathologist who had carried out the postmortem, was immediately arrested, as was Mikheil Dzadzamia, the bodyguard tasked with watching over Zhvania on the night he died. Both were subsequently charged with dereliction of duty and remanded in pretrial custody.

Dzadzamia is currently on trial together with the head of Zhvania's security detail, Koba Kharshiladze. He is pleading not guilty.   

Nadoy, who is prosecutor at the trial, ruled on September 30 that five senior members of the former ruling United National Movement (ENM) should be summoned to testify. The five are: Merabishvili, who is currently serving three separate prison terms on charges of exceeding his official authority and using public funds to bribe voters; Baramidze; and ENM parliament deputies Goka Gabashvili; Mikheil Machavaviari; and Khatuna Gogorishvili.

Nadoy also said it had been established that the photos of the dead bodies of Zhvania and Usupov were uploaded to YouTube from Turkey, but he declined to specify the precise location, or the identity of "Hakim Pasha," who uploaded them.

Nadoy is not quoted as saying that Yusupov's body too will be exhumed. Yusupov's father Yashir Yusupov, who is convinced that his son was the target of "a planned killing of a political character," said last year that the bodies should be exhumed if it is impossible to clarify the cause of death by other means.

-- Liz Fuller

18 Years A Slave In Daghestan

One of the stone quarries in Daghestan's Lavasha district where men claiming to be slave laborers were rescued by an NGO in May 2013.

Over the past three years, Russian media have periodically reported the release from slavery of men forced against their will to work at Daghestan's numerous brickworks.

The most recent such victim, a man from Murmansk rescued by the public organization Alternativa, claims to have been held for 18 years as a slave in Daghestan, where he worked first at a brickworks and then, after an unsuccessful attempt to escape, as a cattle herder.

According to Alternativa, the man was the fifth whose release they have secured so far this year, compared with at least 12 in 2013. In some cases, the victims (most of them Russians, but also some from Belarus) said they were drugged after signing a work contract in Moscow or Yekaterinburg, and transported unconscious to Daghestan.

Daghestan's prosecutor's office announced one year ago, however, that inspections of brickworks in the towns of Makhachkala, Kaspiisk, Kizlyar, and Kizilyurt and in the Babayurt, Kizilyurt, and Karabudakhkent districts failed to yield any evidence of the use of involuntary or slave labor. Those inspections did, however, uncover numerous unspecified violations of labor, land, and tax legislation and of health and safety regulations.

Assuming that the workers who managed to escape, and whose escape was reported in the media, constitute the tip of the iceberg, calculating how many may remain in semicaptivity is problematic. In March 2013, an official from the Makhachkala prosecutor's office for nature conservation told parliament officials that "until recently," there had been a total of 86 functioning brickworks in Daghestan, 39 of them in Makhachkala and the coastal town of Kaspiisk. One month later, Daghestan's Ecology and Natural Resources Minister Gasan Idrisov cited a figure of 27 for Makhachkala and Kaspiisk.

But no estimates have been made public of the proportion of those enterprises that employ slave labor. Commenting on the release in January 2013 by Alternativa activists of nine laborers, five of them from Belarus, then-Daghestan Information Minister Nariman Gadzhiyev admitted that "slave labor is not a rare occurrence in Daghestan," and that it was not confined to the construction industry. In May 2013, police launched an investigation after one Daghestani blogger claimed there was a functioning slave market behind one of the city's cinemas where it was possible to purchase a male slave for 15,000 rubles ($380 at today's exchange rate).

On the whole, the republic's authorities appear more concerned by the aesthetic and ecological impact of the brickworks and their importance for the republic's economy than the status of their workforce. Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov complained in February that seen from the air, Makhachkala is surrounded by flooded craters from which clay for bricks has been excavated. Some of those craters are up to 150 meters in diameter and 25-30 meters deep. Other abandoned craters are used as garbage tips, although by law the brickworks owners are obliged to recultivate them.

The brickworks are inspected at intervals:  four of six works in Kaspiisk inspected last month were ordered to suspend production "temporarily" to address violations of ecological and sanitary norms. But any large-scale crackdown or reduction in the total number of such enterprises is unlikely in view of the importance of the construction sector to Daghestan's ramshackle economy. According to official statistics, the Kaspiisk brickworks alone produce between 8 million-9 million tons of bricks per year. 


Armenian Opposition Launches New Wave Of Protests

An opposition rally held in the town of Abovian is just one of several Armenian antigovernment protests planned in the coming weeks.

For the third time in three years, the Armenian opposition has announced the start of a nationwide campaign to bring about regime change, or at least wrest significant political concessions from the country's leaders. Whether this attempt to bring about what one leading figure termed "a velvet revolution as a result of peaceful popular pressure" will succeed where the previous two failed is questionable, however.

At the height of the "Arab Spring" of 2011, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian convened a series of four protest demonstrations in Yerevan to demand pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections. 

Ter-Petrossian never recognized the legality of the presidential ballot three years previously, in which, according to official returns, he polled just 21.51 of the vote compared to 53 percent for then Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. 

The 2011 protests mobilized up to 35,000 people. But, for reasons that were never clarified, Ter-Petrossian failed to capitalize on that manifestation of mass support: He advocated "caution" rather than "pushing the authorities into a corner."  The talks the HAK subsequently embarked on with representatives of Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) ended in deadlock.

In the spring of 2014, a year after Sarkisian's re-election for a second term, four of the five minority parties represented in the parliament elected in May 2012 set aside their long-standing mutual distrust and jointly planned new demonstrations in support of their efforts to force a vote of no confidence in the government. That initiative collapsed when Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (no relation to Serzh) stepped down unexpectedly.

Then, in June 2014, the four parties in question  -- the HAK; the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) headed by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian, which had been part of the ruling coalition until the May 2012 parliamentary election; the Zharangutiun (Heritage) party headed by U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, Serzh Sarkisian's main challenger in the 2013 presidential ballot; and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) --  issued a list of 12 demands to the Armenian leadership, and set a deadline of September 30 for meeting them. 

Most of the demands focused on the socioeconomic situation. They did not include President Sarkisian's resignation, which the BHK and HHD have stopped short of calling for. HHD parliament faction head Armen Rustamian explained that "Serzh Sarkisian's removal alone would not save the country" in the absence of radical changes to the political system. 

Specifically, the opposition called for:

  • The suspension of the pension reform that requires mandatory payments by all employed persons under the age of 40 into two state-controlled pension funds.
  • The revision of legislation governing the use of roadside speed cameras
  • A three-fold reduction of the trade turnover tax and the abolition of VAT payments at the border
  • Doubling agricultural output
  • The conversion of agricultural subsidies from foreign currency into Armenian drams
  • A program to revive the country's flagship Nairit chemical plant, and the payment of wage arrears to its work force
  • A ban on the sale or privatization of hydroelectric  power stations on the Vorotan river
  • A ban on raising public transport tariffs
  • The adoption of legislation banning economic monopolies
  • Amending the electoral code to ensure that the next parliamentary election (due in May 2017) is held exclusively on the basis of party lists. (At present 41 of the 131 deputies are elected from single-mandate constituencies and the remaining 90 under the proportional system.)
  • Granting the opposition oversight functions (over which officials or government bodies is not specified.)
  • A ban on the signing of any document that could pose a threat to the continued existence of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.  


HHK parliamentary faction head Vahram Baghdasarian initially responded by hinting that the Armenian leadership took the "rational" demands seriously and would discuss those they considered "acceptable," but the authorities ultimately failed to meet any of them.

It was that failure that served as the catalyst for the planned new wave of demonstrations.

Lack Of Unity

How effective the new push for regime change will be is not clear. As indicated above, there are fundamental differences among the four parties.

The BHK and the HHD do not support the insistence by the HAK and Zharangutiun that Sarkisian and the government of Hovik Abrahamian should resign.

Moreover, the HAK, the BHK and Zharangutiun oppose planned constitutional amendments floated by Sarkisian that would transfer some presidential powers to the prime minister, while the Dashnaks support them.

And Zharangutiun is the only one of the four parties that unequivocally opposes Sarkisian's unilateral decision one year ago to commit Armenia to membership of Russian President Vladimir Putin's planned Eurasian Economic Union.

Possibly in light of that lack of opposition consensus, both Sarkisian and senior HHK representatives have shrugged off the opposition's warning that they face a "hot autumn." 

In a clear allusion to BHK Chairman Tsarukian, HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov dismissed the opposition alignment as "a merger of revanchism and oligarchy." 

Commentators too are generally sceptical. Veteran political scientist Aleksandr  Iskandarian, for example, was quoted as opining that, despite their growing cooperation, the four parties  lack "the potential" to bring down the government. "And everybody realizes that," Iskandarian said. "Not just you and me, but also the authorities and the leaders of the [opposition] quartet."

Possibly reflecting a lack of public confidence in the quartet's potential, just 2,000 people turned out on September 25 for the first of its new series of rallies. 

That figure would, however, most likely have been higher had the meeting been held in Yerevan's Freedom Square, rather than in the town of Abovian 15 kilometers north of the capital. 

Further rallies are planned in Gyumri, Vanadzor, and six other towns, culminating in a protest demonstration in Yerevan on October 10 at which the decision will be taken whether and how to intensify pressure on the country's leadership.  

-- Liz Fuller


Georgian Prosecutor-General Impounds Former President's Property

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has characterized all attempts to bring him to trial as a political witch hunt.

As part of its efforts to bring former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to trial on charges of exceeding his authority and misuse of public funds, the Georgian Prosecutor-General’s Office has impounded property belonging to Saakashvili, his wife, and his mother.

The stated rationale for doing so, according to a statement released by the Prosecutor-General’s Office on September 19, was that since the former president refuses to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, there is a “justified assumption” that he might conceal his assets in order to plead inability, in the event that he was brought to trial and found guilty, to reimburse the financial damages inflicted on the state.

Saakashvili and his lawyer have criticized that move as “absurd,” “unfounded,” and politically motivated. 

The charge against Saakashvili of misspending some 8.83 million laris ($5.1 million) between November 2009 and February 2013 was announced in mid-August. It is based on classified documents made public in April 2013 by a parliamentarian from the majority Georgian Dream coalition that trounced Saakashvili’s United National Movement (ENM) in the October 2012 parliamentary elections.

The documents in question, some handwritten, appear to show receipts for visits by Saakashvili to European spas and to a resort hotel in Thailand; school fees for Saakashvili’s two sons; 53,283 laris for 10 wristwatches; and 49,499 laris for a cashmere overcoat and seven jackets purchased in London. All those expenses were reportedly charged to the Special State Protection Service, tasked with providing security for the president and other senior officials. Bank accounts belonging to Teymuraz Janashia, the former head of that agency, were frozen earlier this week.

Shortly after the misspending charge was made public, Saakashvili reportedly tried unsuccessfully to post the items of clothing in question back to the state chancellery in Tbilisi.

Saakashvili thus currently faces three separate sets of criminal charges.

The first, of exceeding his authority, were filed in late July. They relate to the use of excessive force, allegedly on Saakashvili’s orders, to break up antigovernment demonstrations in Tbilisi in November 2007 and the subsequent trashing of the premises of the independent TV station Imedi that had criticized the government’s actions.

The second, made public on August 5, focus on Saakashvili’s alleged involvement in an attack by armed masked men in July 2005 on businessman and opposition parliamentarian Valery Gelashvili.

On the basis of those charges, the Prosecutor-General’s Office issued a warrant for Saakashvili’s arrest should he set foot on Georgian territory and formally requested Interpol to issue a “red notice” for his arrest and extradition. No such notice has been issued to date.

In a recent interview with "The New York Times," Saakashvili again characterized all attempts to bring him to trial as a political witch hunt launched at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream coalition, who served from October 2012 until November 2013 as Georgian prime minister. Saakashvili had earlier commented in connection with the misspending charges that the Georgian authorities’ “thirst for revenge and their rush to please their Russian friends have no limit...Nothing seems to be able to prevent Georgian Dream leaders from tarnishing the reputation of our country.”

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli GaribashviliGeorgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili

Whether Saakashvili’s current significance as a symbol of opposition to Russian encroachment on Ukraine is so great that Putin should feel compelled to undermine it by seeking to discredit and humiliate him is an open question. On the other hand, if Saakashvili is innocent, why does he not at least submit to questioning by video link in order to demonstrate that fact, even if fears he would not receive a fair trial deter him from returning to Tbilisi?

His failure to do so suggests that he cares less about demonstrating his innocence than about seeking to portray the current Georgian leadership in the worst possible light and possibly goading it into taking measures that the international community would condemn in far harsher terms than the expressions of concern in response to the charges against him. The current government does not give the impression of being vindictive, incompetent, or stupid.

The prosecutor must know the risks involved in bringing criminal charges against Saakashvili that can be shown to be based on fabricated or even incomplete evidence. It is, therefore, logical to assume that Saakashvili would not have been charged if there was not solid factual evidence to substantiate those charges -- especially given that the Georgian authorities consulted with three prominent and respected international experts before doing so. The materials relating to the first set of charges alone reportedly run to 80 volumes.

Senior Georgian officials, for their part, continue to deny any political motivation behind the efforts to bring Saakashvili to trial. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili issued a statement in connection with Saakashvili’s suspected misuse of budget funds explaining, as he had done on previous occasions, that his government received a mandate from the electorate to create a system in which all citizens are equal before the law and will be held accountable for any crimes they commit, and that no one is above the law.

Alluding to miscarriages of justice during the ENM’s decade in power, Garibashvili stressed that "the Georgian people want to put an end once and for all to the impunity which reigned in our country for years."

-- Liz Fuller

Cause of Kabardian Journalist’s Death Still Unclear

Timur Kuashev left home on July 31 to go jogging. His body was discovered the following day in woodland some 15 kilometers from his apartment.

Seven weeks after Kabardian journalist and human rights activist Timur Kuashev was found dead on the outskirts of Nalchik, the precise cause of his death remains unclear. In light of the trace of an injection in his left armpit, the republican division of the Investigative Committee has nonetheless opened a murder investigation on the assumption that Kuashev was killed because of his professional activities.

Kuashev, 26, left home on the evening of July 31 to go jogging. His body was discovered the following day in woodland some 15 kilometers from his apartment. His body showed no signs of violence but friends said his fingers were turning black, which they construed as evidence he had been deliberately poisoned. Pathologists from the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) Health Ministry, however, said Kuashev’s heart, brain, and circulatory system were undamaged and his body showed none of the usual signs of poisoning.

Forensic tests conducted under the aegis of the Health Ministry reportedly failed to determine the cause of death. Further tests are to be conducted in Moscow, Kuashev’s father Khambi told Kavkaz-uzel last week.

The KBR Interior Ministry and the republican subdirectorate of the Federal Security Service have similarly made no progress in establishing who might have had a motive to kill Kuashev. The Interior Ministry had rejected in May a request by Kuashev to investigate death threats against him posted on the website KavkazPress, which is rumored to be controlled by the "force" agencies. (It was the recourse by KBR Interior Ministry personnel to indiscriminate and gratuitous violence against law-abiding young practising Muslims that served as the catalyst for the multiple attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik in October 2005.) 

Russian journalists Maksim Shevchenko and Natalya Kevorkova, who traveled to Nalchik to conduct an independent investigation into Kuashev’s death, established that he was not involved in commercial activities, had no ties to the North Caucasus insurgency (although he professed Salafi Islam), and had no personal enemies.

Shevchenko and Kevorkova further noted that while dozens of journalists and human rights activists have been killed in the Caucasus over the past 10 to 15 years, almost all of them were shot. That circumstance conveniently allowed investigators to blame the killings on the North Caucasus insurgency, with the result that the killers were never found and brought to trial and/or the investigation was shelved.

The announcement in early September by investigators in Makhachkala that they had suspended inquiries into the murder in July 2013 of journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev as all possible leads had been exhausted elicited outrage among international human rights watchdogs.

The use of a poison that leaves no trace (if that is, indeed, how Kuashev died) is a new and alarming occurrence, Shevchenko and Kevorkova say.

The two journalists acknowledge that Kuashev’s death reflects badly on Yury Kokov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin named acting republic head last December. Although Kokov, 59, has spent virtually his entire career in the Interior Ministry, serving most recently as head of the federal ministry’s Counterterrorism Center, he has adopted a much softer stance vis-a-vis the insurgency than his predecessors. Kokov is personally monitoring the investigation into Kuashev’s death, which he termed a "terrible tragedy," and has met personally with Kuashev’s mother.

In the absence of any other motive, it is conceivable that Kuashev was killed with the sole intention of undermining Kokov and preventing his confirmation as republic head. If so, the perpetrators appear to have miscalculated. On September 15, Putin proposed Kokov, together with two alternative candidates, for the post of KBR republic head. The new parliament elected on September 14, in which the United Russia party controls 50 of the 70 seats, is to elect the new republic head on October 9. Most observers take it as given that deputies will endorse Kokov.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.