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Does Dmitry Medvedev (left) hope to see the end of Mukhu Aliyev?
Some commentators have construed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's December 24 assertion that new elections will take place in several municipalities in Daghestan as setting a laudable precedent for annulling the outcome of regional ballots that were openly and blatantly rigged.

But it is equally likely that Medvedev's public endorsement of the ruling the previous day by Daghestan's Supreme Court upholding the Derbent City Court's decision to annul the results of the October 11 ballot for city mayor was part of a carefully constructed rationale not to appoint incumbent Mukhu Aliyev to serve a second term as Daghestan's president.

Aliyev mobilized virtually the entire republican leadership to campaign on behalf of incumbent Derbent Mayor Feliks Kaziakhmedov, who was duly proclaimed the winner with 67.5 percent of the vote, compared with 28 percent for his closest challenger, former republican prosecutor Imam Yaraliyev.

Aliyev, whose term expires in February, was one of five potential presidential candidates on a list presented to Medvedev last month by the presidium of the ruling United Russia party. That list did not include influential Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, who many observers believe has for years aspired to the presidency. Amirov is a Dargin, while Aliyev and three of the other five candidates on the list are Avars. The fifth, Magomedsalam Magomedov, the son of Aliyev's predecessor as president, is also a Dargin.

Eight Russian State Duma deputies from Daghestan had earlier written to Medvedev and to United Russia Chairman Boris Gryzlov arguing that Amirov was the best-qualified candidate to take over from Aliyev as president. Medvedev nonetheless endorsed the list of five names on December 16.

On December 25, seven of the eight State Duma deputies who originally lobbied Medvedev and Gryzlov on Amirov's behalf reportedly sent an official request to Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika to open an investigation into the deployment to Derbent during the mayoral election campaign of "armed groups of state bureaucrats" who, the signatories alleged, surrounded polling stations and terrorized voters, creating an "unbearable situation."

But several of the purported signatories told the website "Kavkaz-uzel" on December 27 on condition of anonymity that the appeal was never sent, and one of them, Rizvan Isayev, denied on December 28 that he ever signed it. A second deputy identified as having signed the appeal, Magomed-kadi Gasanov, confirmed, however, both that he had done so, and that the appeal was indeed sent to Chaika.

Some observers interpreted the appeal to Chaika as a further attempt to discredit Aliyev, who responded by accusing the "opposition" of terrorizing and attempting to bribe voters and of seeking to destabilize the political situation in order to secure the appointment as president of a "puppet" whom they could "manipulate."

Aliyev did not, however, attend a parliament session on December 29 at which deputies were scheduled to endorse his grandiose 10-year social and economic development program, and many of the deputies who constitute his support base reportedly staged a walkout, thereby thwarting a vote. One deputy told "Kavkaz-uzel" that "many" of his fellow deputies offered congratulations to Magomedov, who was visibly in excellent spirits. But another commentator construed the walkout as a warning signal to Moscow that the parliament would reject any proposed presidential candidate except Aliyev.
Russian border guards at the Verkhny Lars/Zemo Larsi crossing with Georgia
President Mikheil Saakashvili has accepted the offer by his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to open the Verkhny Lars/Zemo Larsi border crossing between the two countries and to restore direct flights.

Medvedev formally announced that offer in Moscow on December 10, saying that despite the "overt and tough" standoff between the Russian and Georgian governments, he sees "no obstacles" to a move that would serve the interests of "ordinary people" in both countries.

A spokeswoman for Saakashvili said in Tbilisi on December 11 that Georgia is ready to resume direct flights and to reopen Zemo Larsi. That border crossing was closed, purportedly for reconstruction, in July 2006. Direct flights between the two countries were suspended in the fall of 2006 when bilateral relations plummeted in the wake of a spy scandal.

In May 2009, the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi submitted to the Georgian Foreign Ministry a proposal by the Russian Foreign Ministry to reopen Verkhny Lars/Zemo Larsi. Switzerland has represented Russia's diplomatic interests in Georgia since August 2008, when Georgia unilaterally severed diplomatic ties to protest Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

The only other two border crossings between Russia and Georgia are in those two breakaway republics, and therefore outside the control of the central Georgian government.

In recent months, Armenia has mediated proxy talks between Moscow and Tbilisi with a view to expediting the reopening of Verkhny Lars, which was Armenia's only overland route to Russia and Europe. Visiting Yerevan last month, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigiol Vashadze stressed that doing so would be economically beneficial to both Georgia and Armenia.

But residents of Georgia's Kazbegi district, where the border crossing is located, do not want it reopened. Meeting on November 21 with Georgian parliament deputies, they said they fear the return of Ossetians who fled to Russia during the August 2008 war, and whose return "could trigger an interethnic conflict." Parliament speaker Davit Bakradze downplayed those apprehensions as unsubstantiated.

A Russian Transport Ministry spokesman confirmed on December 10 that Russia is ready to address the question of resuming direct flights if Tbilisi formally requests it.

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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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