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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW1394 2007-03-29 15:14 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #1394/01 0881514
P 291514Z MAR 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 MOSCOW 001394 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/29/2017 
Classified By: PolMinCouns Alice G. Wells.  Reason:  1.4 (b, d) 
"It is enough that the people know there was an election. 
The people who cast the votes decide nothing.  The people who 
count the votes decide everything." 
-- Soso Jugashvili, Caucasus Philosopher 
Introduction and Summary 
1. (C) Dagestan went to the polls March 11, as did many 
localities in Russia, but the elections bore little relation 
-- both in process and in meaning -- to what happened 
elsewhere in the country.  The elections were a way for the 
four main power groupings to test their strength for the 
first time since former leader Magomedali Magomedov -- "the 
Grandfather" retired last year and Putin appointed a 
full-fledged President, the reforming technocrat Mukhu 
Aliyev, in his place.  In addition, the elections represent a 
compromise by local groups with the trappings of democracy 
and party politics foisted upon them by Moscow; the elections 
are a veneer over the real system, not unlike a Halloween 
costume a child might put on for one day to please its 
parents.   Mukhu Aliyev is standard bearer for United Russia, 
but leaders of the other three power groups were all on the 
United Russia ticket as well, all the while supporting 
candidates in opposing parties -- the factions transcend 
party bounds.  The results were carefully calculated to 
please Moscow while finding a middle point based on the 
relative strengths of the four factions.  But the basic 
problems of inter-factional strife remain.  End Summary. 
Warlord Democracy 
2. (C) Time was, Dagestan held the fairest elections on 
earth.  That was after the 1992 collapse of the Soviet Union 
and the retreat of Moscow from the affairs of the small 
mountain republic.  In February 1998, for example, Said 
Amirov -- a warlord confined to a wheelchair by a 1992 
assassination attempt, one of the 14 he has survived -- ran 
for mayor of Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital.  Amirov is of 
the Dargins, the second largest of Dagestan's 39 official 
ethnic groups.  Amirov's main opponent was a warlord of the 
Avars, Dagestan's largest ethnic group. 
3. (C) Both realized that using the normal techniques for a 
Caucasus election -- buying votes, stuffing ballots, 
falsifying the count -- would unleash a clan war that could 
kill hundreds or even thousands.  So they agreed to hold an 
honest election, because only an election without a hint of 
falsification would allow the loser to concede defeat without 
losing dignity.  Before the election, both sides had thugs 
out on the street ensuring that votes were not bought (all 
ethnic groups are represented in Makhachkala, and no one 
group predominates).  Both sides had thugs at the entrance to 
polling precincts, checking passports to ensure that only 
those entitled to vote in a particular polling place was 
allowed to enter it.  Both sides had thugs observing the 
voting, to ensure there was not ballot-stuffing or multiple 
voting.  And both sides had thugs watching over the vote 
count.  Amirov won, and remains mayor to this day -- and the 
most powerful warlord in Dagestan. 
4. (C) Dagestan was run in Moscow's absence, in the years 
following the Soviet collapse, by a curious ethnic balancing 
system.  Dagestan's centuries-old unit of power was the 
"jamaat," best translated as "canton."  This was a 
self-governing group of clans living in one small 
geographical area.  There are several hundred of these, each 
with its own dialect.  When the Russians arrived in the 19th 
century they couldn't deal with that many different peoples, 
and grouped those speaking closely related languages together 
-- all those speaking dialects close to Avar became Avars, 
etc.  That reduced the number of peoples to 39, and these 
were further reduced for political purposes to 14 by 
subsuming small related groups into the Avars and Dargins. 
After Moscow's influence disappeared from Dagestan in the 
early 1990s, the locals formed a Presidential Council -- 
rather than a one-person Presidency -- composed of one 
representative from each of the 14 groups.  At the same time, 
government ministries and senior bureaucratic posts were 
carefully doled out to ensure that each group got its fair 
share of the top jobs. 
5. (C) The competition between jamaats remained and even 
intensified now that, for example, all of the Avar jamaats 
were competing for the one Avar seat on the Council.  This 
tension produced a free-wheeling political system in which 
each jamaat or bloc of jamaats had its own "ethno-party" 
MOSCOW 00001394  002 OF 006 
capable of calling on significant armed force to back up its 
political claims.  Parties banded together in ad hoc 
alliances to promote their own interests and defend the 
interests of the wider ethnic group (when these did not 
conflict).  Magomedali Magomedov, "The Grandfather" and Chair 
of the Presidential Council, kept the peace by brilliantly 
playing all off against all, acting as the peacemaker.  Any 
one party could exercise a veto by calling its ethnic milit
down from the mountains, guns at the ready, to take over the 
main square of Makhachkala.  Magomedov received their 
delegations, made promises and concessions, and kept the 
balance.  Of course, sometimes warlords insisted on demands 
that all the others thought were excessive.  The others would 
talk to him.  If he still would not see reason, well, a large 
and very public explosion usually put an end to the demands. 
As Soso Jugashvili also said, "No man, no problem." 
The New Order 
6. (C) But much has changed in Russia, and perforce in 
Dagestan.  Under Putin, Moscow has returned with a vengeance. 
 It took six years to force out "The Grandfather," but 
Magomedov finally retired in 2006.  Putin chose the 
technocratic speaker of Dagestan's parliament, Mukhu Aliyev, 
to be President, replacing the entire Presidential Council 
system.  Aliyev seems to have been the choice of the 
"Grandfather," and also seems to have been acceptable to the 
reformist Presidential Representative for the Southern 
Federal District, Dmitriy Kozak.  In 2007, now under close 
scrutiny from Moscow, Dagestan could not avoid the party 
system imposed from the center.  The Dagestani elites have 
had to find other ways to resolve disputes.  Elections become 
a tool in the process, but not the process itself. 
7. (C) Not that the parties of the Center have any illusions 
that Dagestan politics have much to do with national party 
politics.  As the leader of the Union of Rightist Forces 
(SPS) told us after his party was disqualified from running 
in the March 11 election for the Republic's Parliament, "We 
picked the wrong warlord."  Moscow's main interest has been 
to ensure that there is a veneer of national politics -- 
however thin -- over the power struggles internal to Dagestan. 
8. (C) Seven parties nominally competed in the elections. 
However, all members of the four main factions vying for 
power -- and everyone else who matters -- were members of 
United Russia, the Kremlin's party of power.  The factions 
break down as follows: 
-- First is Said Amirov, still Mayor of Makhachkala and still 
the most powerful warlord in the country.  But he is under 
threat.  He was the main muscle for "Grandfather" Magomedali 
Magomedov, like Amirov an ethnic Dargin.  "The Grandfather" 
faced opposition from the Avars, who believed that as the 
largest ethnic group they should have had the presidency. 
Amirov defended Magomedov.  But tensions arose between the 
two of them, as Amirov made it plain that he thought "The 
Grandfather" had agreed to repay the favor by stepping aside 
in a timely way and letting Amirov take over.  Magomedov had 
no such plans. 
-- Thus there is friction between Amirov and the second 
group, the faction nominally headed by "The Grandfather's" 
son Magomedsalam Magomedov, now speaker of Parliament, but 
with "The Grandfather" in the wings as consigliere.  The two 
groups are vying both for the leadership of the Dargins and 
the political legacy of "The Grandfather."  Meanwhile, now 
that there is an Avar President, Amirov is gradually being 
deprived of his access to "budgetary resources" (i.e., direct 
theft from subventions paid from Moscow), rent-seeking 
opportunities, and patronage. 
-- The third group is that of the current president, Mukhu 
Aliyev.  Aliyev is a strange character for Dagestan: 
technocratic, not corrupt, not willing to play the political 
game the way "The Grandfather" used to.  As one of our guides 
to Dagestani political life put it, under Magomedov, life was 
simple.  You wanted a lucrative government job, you paid 
Magomedov the agreed price, and the job was yours.  Now, 
under Aliyev, those who have jobs are supposed to work at 
them, not just make money by using their office.  Those who 
work badly are replaced.  Rent-seekers find this innovation 
disquieting.  Aliyev is the head of United Russia in 
Dagestan, and he controls the United Russia ticket.  His is 
the only group using only one party.  Those he picked for 
parliament are, like him, technocrats. 
-- The fourth force is the so-called "Northern Alliance." 
This is a group of powerful Avar warlords from the northern 
tier of the Avar country - the non-mountainous 
MOSCOW 00001394  003 OF 006 
Khasavyurt-Kizlyar region, as opposed to the original Avar 
homeland in the high mountains of the country's west.  The 
Alliance was deeply opposed to Magomedov, and its members are 
eager to show their loyalty to and support for their 
fellow-Avar, Mukhu Aliyev, even though he was not their 
candidate for president.  They are so eager, in fact, that 
they perform services for him that he has not even asked for. 
9. (C) Aliyev tries to keep his distance from the Alliance. 
In the current elections, one of the Alliance's strongmen, 
Sagid Murtazaliyev, was running for district chief of 
Kizlyar.  Murtazaliyev really is a strongman, having been an 
Olympic and World Champion weightlifter.  Aliyev, conscious 
that Moscow is always looking over his shoulder, opposed 
Murtazaliyev's election:  Kizlyar is a largely ethnic Russian 
district, it has always had Russian district chiefs, and 
Aliyev declared that he would prefer to see a Russian elected 
this time as well.  But Murtazaliyev not only won in Kizlyar; 
he also got a kinsman elected district chief of the Tsumada 
district, in the western mountains, from which his clan 
10. (C) In addition, Aliyev is responsible to Moscow for the 
quality of his party list.  So, for example, it would have 
looked bad for the two brothers of Northern Alliance grandee 
Gadzhi Makhachev, Duma representative for Makhachkala, to run 
on the United Russia  ticket.  Neither they nor Gadzhi fit 
the technocratic mold that Moscow wants to see.  So Gadzhi 
put them on the Just Russia ticket, running against his own 
party.  There was another reason Gadzhi did this:  he ran his 
younger brother in Amirov's home district, trying to use his 
influence to reduce Amirov's vote. 
11. (C) The elections held on March 11 served a purpose for 
these four factions, not just for Moscow.  They were the 
first chance the factions have had to demonstrate their 
relative strength in the new power alignment that came into 
being with the retirement of "The Grandfather."  True to the 
dictum of Soso the Sage of the Caucasus, their strength is 
shown not in the numbers of those who cast votes, but in the 
numbers of ballots that are counted. 
The Casting, the Counting... 
12. (C) The elections proceeded in four phases.  First, the 
clans infiltrated their candidates into all the party lists 
and start to gain support for their own candidates and 
destroy their opponents' support.  Amirov, while himself 
firmly on the United Russia ticket (all factions want Kremlin 
support), started financing candidates on the Union of 
Rightist Forces (SPS) ticket (he wa
s the "wrong warlord" to 
whom the party's Moscow leader referred above).  The Northern 
Alliance made a successful countermove:  through a 
combination of pressure, influence, disincentives (some of 
them involving automatic weapons) and incentives, three SPS 
candidates were disqualified.  This wiped the entire ticket 
off the ballot for parliament, though SPS remained on the 
ballot for local councils and district chiefs.  And then 
there were six. 
13. (C) At this point we should describe the six: 
-- As mentioned, United Russia (YeR) is the Kremlin's party 
of power and also the party of the president of Dagestan.  As 
the party of power, most of the powerful belong to it, 
regardless of what ticket they run on. 
-- Just Russia (SR) is the second Kremlin Party of power, and 
has the advantage that Dagestan's president does not control 
the ticket.  Thus it is a home for warlords, grandees and 
other powerful folks who might be an embarrassment on the YeR 
ticket.  As we mentioned, Gadzhi Makhachev ran his two 
brothers on this ticket.  Another colorful figure of SR is a 
Mountain Jew from Derbent named Sergey Pinkhasov; Makhachev 
appears to be a patron of the Derbent Jewish community, one 
having been among the boys he financed to attend a military 
high school in San Diego. 
-- The Agrarians and Communists are traditional parties in 
Dagestan.  The Agrarians still have some strong figures in 
their party, but the communists have lost steadily since 
1996, when Zyuganov, the Communist candidate, received 70 
percent of Dagestan's vote in the first round of the election 
(he only received 30 percent in the run-off against Yeltsin, 
leading most observers to conclude that the second round of 
the election had seen the application of traditional Caucasus 
political technologies).  The Communists are left with party 
activists, but no money; however, they appeared to have some 
money in the final days of the campaign, and observers 
MOSCOW 00001394  004 OF 006 
strongly suspected this came from Amirov. 
-- The Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), like the SPS, was 
initially disqualified from the race for parliament. 
However, that decision was reversed after Zhirinovskiy made a 
personal plea to Makhachev.  That was a safe move, since a 
Great Russian chauvinist party had no chances of making 
inroads in overwhelmingly non-Russian Dagestan. 
-- The Patriots are a largely regional party, known to 
represent the interests of the Lezgins and related 
nationalities in the usually overlooked southern part of the 
country.  Representing a disgruntled electoral base, the 
Patriots were a good vehicle for all disgruntled Dagestanis 
in a Republic whose social injustice and gap between rich and 
poor is high even by Russian standards.  The Patriots were 
impoverished, but suddenly received massive infusions of 
cash, known to be from Makhachkala Mayor Amirov (by 
unofficial count, the Patriots appear to have taken 20% of 
the vote in Makhachkala, drawing on support much broader than 
the Lezgin diaspora there). 
14. (C) After the first phase, before election day, came the 
elections themselves on March 11.  The usual abuses were 
reported - bought votes, busloads moving from precinct to 
precinct and voting in all of them, ballot stuffing, etc. 
The third phase was the counting and preparation of the vote 
protocols in the precincts.  These provided an opportunity 
for party machine hacks to show their loyalty to their bosses 
by ensuring that the "right" party or parties got an 
appropriate vote count.  The fourth phase was the preparation 
of the republic-wide results, in which the original protocols 
were amended to reflect the results of post-counting 
negotiations among the principal forces. 
15. (C) But here a new, fifth phase has interjected itself: 
the negotiation with Moscow.  Results must be acceptable to 
the Kremlin, and this means making sure that they don't look 
ridiculous and that they satisfy (i.e., silence) the outraged 
complaints of national parties such as the Communists.  This 
phase seems to have taken at least a week, as the final 
results came out well after those of the rest of the regions 
that voted.  In the initial vote count, neither the 
Communists nor the Patriots passed the 7% barrier for 
representation in Parliament (Communists were given 5.47%, 
Patriots 6.1%), though both undoubtedly did better.  A Lezgin 
expert was convinced, for example, that in this phase Said 
Amirov would "trade" the performance of the Patriots for 
concessions on the conduct and results of the State Duma 
elections at the end of this year.  In the event, however, 
the Patriots were allowed to squeak through with 7.07% of the 
vote, and the Communists received 7.12%.  This was done by 
shaving percentages off other parties.  In the preliminary 
count, YeR received 65.67%; the final count gave them 63.81%. 
 SR went from 11.48% to 10.74%; and the Agrarians from 9.16 
to 9.12. 
...And the Accounting 
16. (C) But what of the real results - changes in the balance 
of power among the leading political groupings?  Amirov came 
out slightly down.  He managed to get the Patriots into 
Parliament, but lost heavily on his backing of SPS.  Though 
he won in his district (turning his seat down to retain his 
executive position), his majority (in the preliminary count) 
"only" approached 70%, well below most of the unchallenged 
YeR stalwarts.  This was due to competition from the younger 
brother of Amirov's blood rival, Gadzhi Makhachev, running on 
the JR ticket.  Amirov may also have lost out to the other 
Dargin faction, the one headed by the "Grandfather's" son, 
Magomedsalam Magomedov.  In one race for district chief, 
Amirov's protg lost big to a supporter of Magomedov.  This 
conclusion must be treated gingerly, however, because the 
report of this race comes in an anti-Amirov newspaper; 
perhaps it played up the defeat for Amirov while glossing 
over his victories elsewhere. 
17. (C) Northern Alliance grandee Gadzhi Makhachev managed to 
elect a second brother in Khasavyurt, also running on the SR 
ticket - a demonstration that even running in opposition to 
his own party he could deliver votes loyal to himself 
personally.  As we mentioned, Makhachev's fellow Ally in the 
Northern Alliance, Sagid Murtazaliyev, had a very good day. 
On the whole, the Northern Alliance seems to have done well. 
18. (C) It is unclear how President Mukhu Aliyev came out. 
His technocrats will fill the majority of parliamentary 
seats, which is perhaps all he cares about:  his obvious goal 
in the elections was to ensure a base of support independent 
from the clan systems either of his fellow Avars or of other 
MOSCOW 00001394  005 OF 006 
ethnic groups. 
19. (C) How did Moscow come out?  On the whole, not too 
badly.  As mentioned above, Moscow had no illusions that &#
x000A;Dagestani politics could be made to resemble national 
politics.  The Center just wanted to keep the place out of 
the news, keep the voting non-violent, and at the end of a 
day be able to say that local officials, councils and a 
parliament were elected; this modest ambition was achieved. 
The inclusion of the Communists in Parliament seems to have 
silenced national press coverage, and few in Moscow pay 
attention to the Dagestani media. 
One Man, One Problem 
20. (C) But one of the main power problems of Dagestan 
remains unresolved and unaddressed by the elections: 
longtime Minister of Internal Affairs Adilgirey 
Magomedtagirov.  Magomedtagirov is a colorful figure, a 
high-mountain Avar from the west, big and strong, with great 
presence, who long ago made a name for himself as police 
chief in the ethnically Azeri trading city of Derbent, near 
the Azerbaijani border.  Derbent's culture was, like the 
Azeris, softer and more commercial than the rest of Dagestan, 
and Magomedtagirov proved extremely effective in ridding the 
town of known criminals.  His technique was simple:  he 
picked them up, planted narcotics on them, threw them in 
jail, and let them rot.  No man, no problem.  As Minister of 
Internal Affairs, his current targets are Islamic radicals, 
for whom he has devised different tactics:  he has vowed that 
their cases will be terminated before they ever get to court. 
 But that is not the cause of the current problems in the 
power structure. 
21. (C) Magomedtagirov, an Avar, was perfect as Minister 
under the Dargin leader "Grandfather" Magomedov. 
Magomedtagirov was "The Grandfather's" counterweight to the 
Dargin warlord and Makhachkala Mayor Amirov.  But 
Magomedtagirov also protected "The Grandfather" against the 
Northern Alliance, who represented a different part of the 
Avar lands.  That delicate balance changed once Mukhu Aliyev, 
an Avar, became President.  Having two Avars in such high 
posts is considered an unsustainable disbalance of the 
system.  So Aliyev prepared to demand Magomedtagirov's 
resignation and put in his place his Dargin deputy, another 
strong personality.  By pure coincidence, however, the deputy 
was targeted by two assassination attempts, the second of 
which succeeded.  No man, no problem. 
22. (C) This left Magomedtagirov in place, and finding a 
successor now grew problematic.  So various methods have been 
employed to force him out.  First, an unprecedented strike 
and demonstration took place in Makhachkala:  the MVD's OMON 
regiment walked out and demanded Magormedtagirov be sacked. 
It is generally assumed that the only person who could have 
arranged this action is Makhachkala mayor Said Amirov.  When 
this didn't work, a more direct solution was attempted.  In 
the last few months Magomedtagirov has been the target of 
several assassination attempts, all of which he has survived. 
 One was a complicated plot by people who evidently had 
enormous amounts of power and money:  the local MVD chief in 
the Buynaksk district was assassinated, and as expected 
Magomedtagirov and his associates got in their cars and 
rushed off to the scene of the crime.  The main road to 
Buynaksk being just by chance closed for repairs, the convoy 
had to use a more circular road through the mountains, where 
they ran into an ambush:  a huge mine blasted one of the cars 
apart and gunmen were waiting to shoot the survivors. 
Unluckily for the plotters, they blew up the wrong car and 
Magomedtagirov shot his way out. 
23. (C) So Dagestan still has the men, and still has the 
problem.  The elections seem to have left the basic power 
struggle unaffected, but analysts believe the cards are 
stacked against Makhachkala Mayor Amirov.  He is not only 
faced with opposition from all the Avar factions - the 
Northern Alliance, the President, the Minister of Internal 
Affairs - but also with competition against Magomedsalam 
Magomedov for leadership of the Dargins.  Amirov has two 
things going for him, however.  First, he is considered the 
most ruthless warlord in Dagestan, which is really saying 
something.  Second, he knows that the moment he leaves office 
there is nowhere on the face of the earth that can hide him - 
and his entire family - from the murderous blood revenge of 
his many enemies.  Amirov has absolutely nothing to lose to 
fight to the death.  And Dagestani politics, for some time to 
come, will be ruled less by elections than by the first part 
of the philosopher Soso Jugashvili's dictum: "Death solves 
all problems." 
MOSCOW 00001394  006 OF 006 


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