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Another Political Heavyweight Bites The Dust In Daghestan

Outgoing Khasavyurt Mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov (file photo)
Outgoing Khasavyurt Mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov (file photo)

Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov's ongoing campaign to purge the political establishment of any figures who could conceivably pose a threat to his authority has claimed a new victim.

Political heavyweight Saygidpasha Umakhanov formally submitted his resignation as mayor of the northern town of Khasavyurt at a meeting of the municipal council on September 23. He had served in that capacity since 2001.

Umakhanov, 53, has long been one of the most powerful political figures in Daghestan. (In February 2014, the independent daily Chernovik ranked him second after Abdulatipov.

A former factory worker turned freestyle wrestling trainer, Umakhanov has degrees in economics and law. He was first elected Khasavyurt mayor in April 1997 and from 1997 to 2003 he was a member of the republic's National Assembly. In the early 2000s, Umakhanov headed the informal "Northern Alliance" of Avar politicians who sought to bring about the dismissal of veteran State Council head Magomedali Magomedov, whom Alliance members accused of corruption and of organizing political assassinations.

Rumors of Umakhanov's impending fall from grace first surfaced early this month, when Chernovik quoted him as having told close relatives he had been asked to step down "because he had been in the post too long." He is not under suspicion of committing any crime. Magomed Bisavaliyev, editor of the sociopolitical journal Daghestan, thinks he will be named to head a government ministry.

Arslan Arslanov, who heads the Khasavyurt municipal council, has been named acting mayor pending the formal election of a successor to Umakhanov. The most likely candidate, according to analysts, is Zaynudin Okmazov, an Avar and former Komsomol functionary from the same village as Umakhanov.

Visceral Dislike

Even before the rumors of Umakhanov's forced resignation were confirmed, Chernovik expressed concern that his departure could facilitate Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's efforts to extend his influence into Daghestan. (The town of Khasavyurt is only 10 kilometers from Daghestan's border with Chechnya.) The weekly noted in that context that Deputy Minister for the North Caucasus Odes Baysultanov, a close associate of Kadyrov, was recently given responsibility for the situation in Daghestan.

Kadyrov himself has made no secret of his visceral dislike of Umakhanov, whom he has publicly branded "a bandit."

Meanwhile, a criminal case has been opened against a second prominent Avar political figure, former republican Prime Minister Magomed Abdullayev, who was removed from that post when Abdulatipov was first named acting Daghestani president in early 2013. Abdullayev, currently acting rector of the Daghestan State Pedagogical University, is suspected of abuse of his official position, specifically, of using 23 million rubles ($350,000) earmarked for student stipends to boost the salaries of two faculty members.

As noted above, Umakhanov, in contrast to Abdullayev and a third prominent Avar, Sagid Murtazaliyev, who heads the Daghestan subsidiary of the federal Pension Fund, is not (yet) suspected of any crime. And his competence in maintaining long-term stability in a particularly volatile region of Daghestan is not open to question. His dismissal, therefore, was almost certainly motivated not by any shortcomings on his part, but by the overriding compulsion of the Russian leadership to take all possible measures to bolster Abdulatipov's authority, including the sidelining of any potential rivals.

As part of that ongoing effort, the findings have just been released of an opinion poll in which respondents were asked to evaluate Abdulatipov's first two years as republic head. (He was confirmed in that post by the republic's parliament in September 2013.)

Of the total 1,500 respondents, 78 percent assessed Abdulatipov's track record positively, 9 percent negatively, and the remaining 13 percent were hard pressed to offer an opinion. Those who gave a favorable rating reportedly singled out Abdulatipov's success in restoring law and order and trust in the republic's leadership, and in reducing the influence of "clans" (presumably meaning that of former Makhachkala mayor Said Amirov) on local politics.

Those negatively disposed towards Abdulatipov criticized his personnel policy, his limited success in combatting corruption, and his failure to make available affordable medical care.

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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