By Paul Goble
What Moscow is doing in Daghestan today, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says, it is prepared to do in every region of the country in order to root out corruption (vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2018/02/08/750313-kreml-masshtabnih-sledstvennih-deistvii-dagestane and rbc.ru/politics/08/02/2018/5a7bfc919a7947b904893cd5).
That Kremlin declaration means that Daghestan is far from the special case many have been treating it as being at least from Moscow’s point of view and suggests that it is critically important to understand just what Moscow is doing there and how it is likely to affect other regions and republics of the Russian Federation in the near future.
The other republics in the North Caucasus are watching the events in Daghestan out of concern that one or more may be the next to have local elites pushed out of the way, external rule imposed, and their prerogatives trampled upon (onkavkaz.com/news/2105-siciliiskii-razgrom-klanov-dagestana-moskva-gotovit-ogranichenie-nacionalnogo-suvereniteta-kavk.html).
Some in Russian-occupied Crimea think that region may be next, especially given its problems and the enormous burden the Anschluss has placed on Moscow (komtv.org/64683-kreml-gotov/?utm_campaign=auction). But Peskov’s comment suggests that no region, except possibly Chechnya at least initially, is safe from moves like those being made in Daghestan.
That makes three arguments today about the Daghestani events of even greater importance. Their disturbing messages are as follows:
1.Moscow is Re-Imposing Direct Colonial Rule on Daghestan
Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov says that what Moscow is doing in Daghestan is reposing direct colonial rule, using “the fight against corruption” as little more than an implausible fig leaf given that there is corruption everywhere in Putin’s Russia (graniru.org/opinion/portnikov/m.267511.html).
What is taking place in Daghestan, he continues, “is not about any desire to defeat corruption.” Instead, “it is a desire to transform a corrupted dominion, ‘a state within a state,’ into a corrupt colony of the Kremlin” — or to put it politically correctly, to transform Daghestan from a place where the Daghestanis engage in corruption to one where the Muscovites do.
Today, Moscow has sufficient power to impose its will, at least for a time, Portnikov says. But what he is worried abut is this: what will happen when the central authorities weaken? Do today’s “’battlers against corruption’” understand they are making it impossible for Russians to remain there or elsewhere in the borderlands – and for Russian borders to remain unchanged?
2.Kazan Tatars are Being Used and Played in Daghestan
In today’s Svobodnaya pressa, Anton Chablin addresses a critical point: He asks why Moscow is choosing to use cadres from Tatarstan in the Middle Volga to impose order in Daghestan in the North Caucasus and he gives the approved answer that Moscow wants a successful republic to help it in an unsuccessful one (svpressa.ru/politic/article/192447/).
That is a reasonable answer, but it is certainly only a partial one. Tatarstan did not become successful on the bayonet points of the Russian siloviki, and in Daghestan, as some in Russia have already pointed out, even Tatars won’t be able to do that in the way that Moscow hopes for (ura.news/articles/1036273833).
But there may be a deeper game here, one that reflects past history and Moscow’s current concerns. When Russian occupied Central Asia in the 19th century, the tsars used Tatars as its agents to make Russian power there work. It is not surprising then that they might think about doing so again.
And there is an additional and more contemporary reason: Because of the role the Tatars played, many in Central Asia never entirely trusted them again. The Kremlin may hope that by putting a Tatar in as prime minister in Daghestan, it can undercut Tatar influence among the non-Russians within the Russian Federation.
Over the last several years, Vladimir Putin has worked hard to cut Tatarstan down to size. The Tatar leadership has responded first by reaching out to Tatars outside of Tatarstan and then to Muslims (ansar.ru/rfsng/minnihanov-posetil-starejshuyu-mechet-rossii). Putin may see his move in Daghestan therefore as a move against Tatarstan as well.
- The Terror in Daghestan has Begun to Spread – And Will Last as Long as Putin Does.
Israeli analyst Avraam Shmulyevich says that what is happening in Daghestan is part and parcel of what is happening in Russia as a whole rather than something separate and distinct (rusmonitor.com/avraam-shmulevich-ob-arestakh-v-dagestane-repressii-budut-prodolzhatsya-do-tekh-por-poka-sushhestvuet-ehta-sistema.html).
The country has entered a new 1937, the beginning of terror. “Today Russia is ruled by Chekists … They even call themselves that. But Chekists do not know how to do anything but arrest people.” That is what it was established to do and that is what it is doing now.
“In contrast to Perm, Tver or Sakhalin,” Shmulyevich continues, “Daghestan is viewed as a colony of Russia as a certain alien place and therefore everything which is taking place there is examined with particular interest – although in this specific case, there is no difference between Daghestan and Kirov oblast or Magadan.”
But there is one difference that Moscow appears to have forgotten: unlike in these other places, in Daghestan, there is a tradition of partisan war, of going into the forests and fighting back. And consequently, if Moscow continues to repress people in Daghestan, it is more than likely that this tradition will return to the fore.
But at the same time Moscow is arresting people in Daghestan, Shmulyevich points out, “arrests and even murders in the ruling stratum are occurring throughout the entire country” – in Tatarstan, in Ingushetia, in Stavropol and in Kaliningrad. And that means something else: it has begun and will continues as long as this [Putin] system exists.”
Many will talk about Daghestan, but so far, what is happening elsewhere hasn’t attracted as much attention.