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Daghestan's Embattled President Wins Reprieve

Dmitry Medvedev (left) let Mukhu Aliyev know he's on a short leash.
Dmitry Medvedev (left) let Mukhu Aliyev know he's on a short leash.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met on February 10 in Moscow with Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev and issued an unambiguous warning that Aliyev's political future is contingent on his success in combating crime, corruption, and "insecurity," and in raising living standards and wages.

But according to, Medvedev also acceded to Aliyev's request to rescind the appointment of federal official Vladimir Radchenko to the vacant post of head of the Daghestan office of the Federal Tax Service (FNS). That appointment had triggered protests in Makhachkala, followed by threats against Radchenko's life that Radchenko's lawyer blamed on Aliyev's son Gadjimurat, who is deputy Daghestan FNS head.

Even prior to Radchenko's appointment, speculation had started in Makhachkala over whether Aliyev will be reappointed to serve a second term when his first term ends in February 2010, and who might succeed him if he is not. The circumstances of Radchenko's appointment and the reaction to it in Makhachkala point to key shifts in Daghestan's political landscape, specifically, in tactical alliances between individual political figures and between the most numerous and influential of the republic's 14 titular ethnic groups, shifts that may reflect the presidential aspirations of individual political figures.

On the surface, the furor over Radchenko's appointment can be explained purely in terms of the delicate balance of power between the republic's largest ethnic groups. When Daghestan's constitution was amended in 1998 to abolish the collective presidency, it was agreed that the three top posts -- that of president, prime minister, and parliament speaker -- should go to an Avar, a Dargin, and a Kumyk. Aliyev, an Avar, succeeded Dargin Magomedali Magomedov as president in February 2006.

But other, lower-level government positions have also come to be regarded as the prerogative of specific ethnic groups, and that of FNS head has traditionally been occupied by a Lezgin (the third-largest ethnic group after the Avars and Dargins). The two most prominent candidates for the post vacated last November by a Lezgin were from the same ethnic group. Aliyev is said personally to support the candidacy of Derbent tax chief Ramazan Ramazanov.

Several hundred Lezgins staged a picket on February 2 outside the FNS office in Makhachkala to protest Radchenko's appointment. Also present was Saygid Murtaliyev, head of the Kizlyar district north of Makhachkala. Members of Murtaliyev's bodyguard accompanied Radchenko on February 6 when the latter entered his office with the aim of starting work.

But Radchenko was immediately threatened at gunpoint and forced to leave the building by two men who warned him that he would be killed unless he left Daghestan, his lawyer Murad Kakhrimanov told journalists in Moscow on February 9. Kakhrimanov quoted Radchenko as saying he believes that Gadjimurat Aliyev was behind that incident. But local commentators have asked why the younger Aliyev should have acted in a way that could have catastrophic consequences both for himself and his father.

Murtaliyev and Saygidpasha Umakhanov, head of Khasavyurt Raion that borders on Chechnya, are both Avars, and under Magomedov were regarded as pillars of an Avar opposition alliance to the Dargin president. But Russian press reports of the furor occasioned by Radchenko's appointment suggest that Murtaliyev and Umakhanov have fallen out, although opinions differ as to the reasons why.

The website, admittedly not always the most reliable of sources, reported on January 26 that Medvedev's aide Vladislav Surkov offered Umakhanov the post of president of Daghestan at a secret meeting in Moscow two days earlier. But "Vremya novostei" on February 11 quoted Umakhanov as affirming his support for Aliyev who, Umakhanov argued, "needs a second term to complete what he has begun." So did Murtaliyev make common cause with the Lezgins against rival Avars Aliyev and Umakhanov?

Still unclear is the role played in Radchenko's appointment by Moscow oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, a Lezgin whose personal wealth is estimated at over $17 billion. In July 2008, Kerimov, who represents Daghestan in the Federation Council, paid over 2.5 billion rubles ($108 million at the time) into Daghestan's budget in taxes for the previous year; 40 percent of that sum was to be spent in Derbent. If that sum was diverted for other purposes, Kerimov would have a valid interest in the appointment of a senior tax inspector with no ties to that city who would be in a position to conduct an impartial investigation.

Finally, it remains unclear whether and by whom Radchenko's appointment was ever formally endorsed: the website on February 10 quoted an unnamed Daghestani official as saying that Aleksandr Akpolov, who heads the administration section of the federal Finance Ministry, has denied that Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin signed the relevant directive naming Radchenko to head the Daghestan FNS office.

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.


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