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Why Was Daghestan's Government Dismissed?

Acting Republic of Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov
Acting Republic of Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov
Acting Republic of Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov has dismissed the republic's government just seven weeks before he is due to be confirmed in that post by the parliament. Addressing ministers on July 22, Abdulatipov deplored their collective failure to embark on the measures outlined in the 10 strategic priority projects the government endorsed in March.

Those projects include effective management; security; reindustrialization; support for private business; attracting federal investment; and cracking down on corruption. Abdulatipov had named ministers to oversee implementation of each of those projects and report in their personal blogs on a weekly basis on the progress made, but they apparently failed to do so.

Abdulatipov stressed that the dismissal of the entire government should not be interpreted as targeting first and foremost Prime Minister Muktar Medzhidov. Several local observers, however, believe that there were indeed serious differences between Abdulatipov and Medzhidov, whom Mairbek Agayev, deputy chief editor of the independent weekly "Chernovik," characterized as Daghestan's most experienced, and possibly best, financial expert.

Kontinent Fund director Magomed Omarov for his part recalled that some three weeks ago, Abdulatipov described Medzhidov publicly as the best prime minister Daghestan had ever had. At the same time, Omarov noted that Abdulatipov, who has spent most of his career in government positions, favors strict regulation of the private sector whereas former entrepreneur Medzhidov favors a more liberal approach.

Blogger Magomed Nikamagomedov suggested an alternative reason why Abdulatipov sidelined Medzhidov, namely, that Medzhidov is a Dargin. (Disgraced former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov too is a Dargin.) The Dargins are Daghestan's second-largest ethnic group, accounting for some 16.5 percent of the population of around 3 million. The largest ethnic group is Avars (29 percent), of whom Abdulatipov is one.

Under an unwritten agreement intended to preserve the balance of power between the largest ethnic groups, the presidency is the exclusive prerogative of the Avars and Dargins. The posts of prime minister and parliament speaker go to representatives whichever of the two largest groups is not president and to the third-largest group, the Kumyks. Abdulatipov, however, Abdulatipov has made clear he considers such artificial constraints irrelevant, arguing that "we constitute a single Daghestani people." And he violated them by naming outgoing First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Karibov, a Lezgin, as acting prime minister. Karibov previously served for 19 years, until February 2013, as head of Daghestan's state body for tourism.

Moreover, Abdulatipov's statement that he is dissatisfied with the entire government is at odds with his subsequent praise of individual members of the cabinet who, he said, are working effectively. They are Health Minister Tanka Ibragimov; Trade and Foreign Economic Relations Minister Yusup Umavov; and Deputy Prime Ministers Ramazan Dzhafarov (security) and Aleksandr Yermoshkin (economy).

Abdulatipov's impatience with the cabinet's failure to begin work on implementing his 10 priority projects may well be justified, especially as Medzhidov only got around to convening the first cabinet session to discuss them on July 3, three months after they were formally adopted. But why did Abdulatipov choose to dismiss the government now, rather than wait until after he is confirmed as president in September?

In an interview one month ago with veteran Russian talk-show host Vladimir Pozner, Abdulatipov admitted that his (official) high approval rating was a liability and could plummet before the September election unless the population sees tangible improvements. Initially, Abdulatipov gave Karibov three weeks to form a cabinet, which would have left less than one month for the new government to deliver results. On July 23, however, it was announced that the parliament would meet on July 25 to endorse the new prime minister.

It is, however, conceivable that the decision to get rid of Medzhidov was taken not in Makhachkala by Abdulatipov but in Moscow. Medzhidov was in Moscow last week, having publicly questioned the wisdom of Abdulatipov's orders to law enforcement agencies on July 14 to investigate possible ties between local administrators and the insurgency in districts where the insurgency is particularly active. In light of the hopes the Russian leadership has invested in Abdulatipov, it is not impossible that Medzhidov was ordered to stop rocking the boat and desist from any further comments that might undermine Abdulatipov, and paid with his job for refusing.

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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