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The Journal Gazette

Monday, January 28, 2013 12:43 pm

Putin sacks leader of volatile Russian province


Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday sacked the regional leader of Dagestan, a province that has become the epicenter of Islamist insurgency in the Caucasus.

The ouster of Magomedsalam Magomedov appears to reflect Kremlin concern about rising violence in Dagestan, which lies 550 kilometers (340 miles) east of the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

While Chechnya has stabilized under the steely grip of its Moscow-appointed strongman following two separatist wars, Dagestan has plunged into turmoil, with Islamist rebels launching daily attacks on police and other officials. The Caspian Sea province's web of clan and ethnic rivalries has contributed to the violence that has made Dagestan Russia's most dangerous region.

Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser, said in an online commentary Monday that Dagestan is "in a permanent crisis" with "various clans and ethnic groups fighting each other."

Magomedov, whose father led Dagestan for 16 years until stepping down in 2006, was named regional president in 2010. The 48-year-old tried to quell the rebellion there by promising pardons to some of the Islamist insurgents, but his efforts have had little result.

Magomedov is succeeded by Ramazan Abdulatipov, a 66-year old federal lawmaker.

The Kremlin didn't give a reason for dismissing Magomedov, but he was given a new position as an adviser to Putin. That appointment was likely an attempt to appease the powerful Dargi ethnic group to which Magomedov belongs. Abdulatipov belongs to a rival group, the Avars.

The situation in Dagestan has spun increasingly out of control in the past few months.

In August, a top Muslim spiritual leader who opposed radical Islam was killed at his home along with five of his followers by a female suicide bomber. And earlier this month, a judge at the region's highest court who worked on high-profile cases involving insurgents was gunned down in the center of the provincial capital, Makhachkala.

Abdulatipov, the incoming regional president, has held senior positions in the federal government and the parliament over the past 20 years. Some commentators discussing his new job pointed to Abdulatipov's alleged connections to Suleiman Kerimov, a billionaire native of Dagestan who has extensive business interests in the region.

"We will cleanse Dagestan of the scum and ensure its revival," Abdulatipov said on Russia's state Channel One television.