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Searches and detentions in Daghestan — ‘the Kremlin’s tactics of strengthening its power’

2 March 2018
Vadim Mukhanov (mgimo.ru)

Detentions of officials in Daghestan are continuing. According to a researcher at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Vadim Mukhanov, the crackdown is aimed at strengthening Moscow’s power in the region and are not indicative of systemic changes.

On 17 January media reports emerged that an official commission had arrived from Moscow to Makhachkala to inspect the issue of chaotic city development and land allocation. Two days later, detentions began.

As of 1 March, five people have been detained. The first was the former mayor of Makhachkala, Musa Musayev. According to the investigators, he ‘exceeded his official powers’ costing the republic’s budget around ₽80 million ($1.4 million) by granting public land to a commercial firm. A criminal case has been launched and Musayev is currently in detention.

On 2 February, the chief architect of Makhachkala, Magomedrasul Gitinov was detained. The official reason for his detention was a plan of a land plot drawn up with irregularities. A criminal case has also been launched against him.

On 5 February, acting prime minister Abdusamad Gamidov, two of his deputies, Rayudin Yusufov and Shamil Isayev, as well as former education minister Shakhabas Shakhov were all detained. They were taken to Moscow, where a court ordered they be detained for two months on suspicion of fraud in the implementation of social security programmes.

The latest official to be indicted was the minister of construction, Ibragim Kazibekov. On 27 February, searches were conducted in his house and office, but police have not managed to locate Kazibekov and detain him.

A source in the Daghestani police told OC Media that searches of Kazibekov’s property were being conducted as part of the criminal case against Abdusamad Gamidov.

‘According to the investigation, Kazibekov may be guilty of costing the republic’s budget ₽386 million ($6.85 million)’, the source told OC Media.

Arrested officials being taken on the aeroplane

‘Moscow doesn’t like playing games according to the old rules’

Senior scholar at the Centre for Caucasus Problems and Regional Security at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), Vadim Mukhanov, believes the mass arrests of Daghestani officials have been orchestrated by Moscow in order to support the new head of the republic, Vladimir Vasilyev. Mukhanov says the detentions won’t affect the system.

Are all these detentions a pre-election show-off? Or is the Kremlin tired of what is happening in Daghestan and decided to restore order?

‘It can be tied to the 2018 elections and Moscow’s concern for the situation in the republic. But the first thing for me is Vasilyev’s appointment. The main thing is not only to appoint a new head, but also to provide them with power support. In my opinion, Moscow repeats certain tactics. A new person comes. In this case, this is a 100% outsider, whom no-one had previously imagined to see as the head of Daghestan and who is in no way connected to the republic. Therefore, he receives such support.’

In Daghestan, there are people dissatisfied with the fact that people from outside the republic are being appointed. Is it possible to somehow predict the reaction of Daghestani society to the appointments of non-Daghestanis?

‘It’s understandable that this reaction won’t be entirely positive. But, on the other hand, the main message the Kremlin is trying to send is that it is fighting against corruption. It can be assumed that the results won’t be large-scale. But people in the North Caucasus will still accept such appointments, at least with hope.

In my opinion, Vasilyev has been given a full carte blanche. He has been given permission not to follow certain rules of the game that were there before. I mean a certain quota; this position should be occupied by a person from here, this one from there, etc. It has been so for decades. And, as far as I understand, Vasilyev wasn’t allowed to follow this.

This suggests that Moscow doesn’t like playing according to the old rules. They want to have not only the head, but also the whole team, who will be under tight control. The latest appointments demonstrate that.’

Do you think that the people who were detained are simply taking the fall for true offenders?

‘It’s a provocative question. If they write that there are grounds for detention and criminal cases were launched, then there is some reason. We will have to wait for the development of the criminal cases, which are now underway. If evidence is collected and people are charged, how can you say that they serve time for someone else? It’s necessary to follow the judicial measures.’

Should other officials and ministers expect the same searches of their offices and houses?

‘As far as I understand, many expectations have already been fulfilled. Moreover, such actions are being carried out in other ministries and departments. But will the circle of detainees be limited to the current list? Most likely no, due to the fact that this problem [corruption] is ubiquitous in Daghestan and neighbouring republics.

But to what degree can this struggle be successful? Physical detention of one or more officials doesn’t mean that the corruption scheme is being cracked down on. If the corruption scheme persists in certain ministries and departments, then all this will boil down to being exclusively a PR stunt.’

A month ago, when these mass arrests began, experts and journalists predicted a struggle for the legacy of the clans. Do you agree with this?

‘If we analyse the names of the people who have been detained, all we have is a small list that turned up on Vasilyev’s desk when he was appointed — which was also given to security forces who conduct all these special operations. I wouldn’t speak of a changing political situation. So far there have been no major changes.

In the republic, in addition to these or other officials, there is a whole set of problems, which so far haven’t moved from a dead centre. This is an attempt to show to the population that the authorities are seriously taking care of the republic. But I wouldn’t judge from this short period of time that any serious changes have taken place.

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