Staunton, May 5 – By annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, Moscow appears more likely to have acquired “a second Dagestan,” the most unstable republic in the North Caucasus, than “a second Tatarstan,” the stable, wealthy and influential republic in the Middle Volga, according to Russian experts.
In a survey of the parallels between Crimea and Dagestan and the views of experts about them, Rasul Kadiyev, an analyst for Kavpolit.com, concludes that given the similarities between these two republics, “there is a serious risk” that Crime will become Russia’s second Dagestan.
Crimea is geographically very similar to Dagestan, he writes. Both are located on a sea and both have a mountainous interior, and both are southern areas with long summers and shorter winters. It also shares some demographic commonalities. While smaller, Crimea is also multi-national, although there are far more Slavs there than in Dagestan.
Moreover, like Dagestan, Crimea lacks industry and is primarily an agricultural region. Both suffer from a shortage of potable and irrigation water, and both have borders with a foreign state, Crimea with Ukraine to the north, in the Russian version, and Dagestan with Azerbaijan to its south.
Both, Kadiyev points out, are heavily dependent on subsidies. Crimea and Dagestan each receive about 70 percent from the central government to pay for government operations. In addition, both have an enormously large shadow economy, and both suffer from a shortage of local banks, many of which left Dagestan after the end of 2012 and Crime after the March referendum.
Both are touristic destinations, with this difference. Dagestani cities attract tourists largely from within the republic, while Crimea has attracted them from Russia and Ukraine. But there is one big difference here: the owners of these facilities in Dagestan are largely local, while those in Crimea were once Russian and are now Ukrainian.
Both Crimea and Dagestan have elected officials at various levels rather than having these positions filled primarily by appointment from above, a situation in which electoral politics thus still matters. Moreover, each has its own distinctive legal system, one somewhat at odds with formal Russian arrangements.
In Dagestan, Muslim customary law plays an important role to this day, Kadiyev says, and in Crimea, despite the imposition of Russian law, Ukrainian legal traditions will continue to have an impact. As a result, both republics remain somewhat outside of the “common legal space” Vladimir Putin has promised to create for the Russian Federation.
And finally, he says, the two have “special relations” with Moscow. The Russian central government has “’closed its eyes’” to the way things are done in Dagestan citing the specific features of the republic. Given the differences between Crimea and Russia, Moscow will almost certainly “look the other way” at how things are done there.
Given these similarities, the analyst suggests, there is “a serious risk” that Crimea will become “a second Dagestan.”
Moscow State University specialist Natalya Zubarevich agrees and points to the fact that “in the transition period, Crimea does not have many good institutions” or established “rules of the game.” As a result, there are certain to be official abuses. And federal subsidies will only complicate this situation, Caucasus specialist Denis Sokolov adds.
But there are two bigger problems common to both republics, Kadiyev continues, land disputes that are keeping investors from coming in and uncertainties about which laws apply in which situations, something that has the effect of creating new opportunities for criminal activities.
In addition, there is the problem of Islam and nationality conflicts. Moscow’s approach to these – dividing up the population and using force – will soon lead to “the appearance of news reports about special operations and the destruction of militants” and that will discourage an influx of tourists and other visitors in Crimea just as it does in Dagestan.
This problem is already so much in evidence that two members of Putin’s Presidential Human Rights Council, Svetlana Gannushkina and Yevgeny Bobrov, have prepared reports about “the doubtful practices of the [new] Crimean authorities” and the impact of their actions on potential visitors. Clearly, Crimea needs to adopt a different approach.
Finally, Kadiyev says, there is one risk that hasn’t received much attention but that may matter increasingly in the future. That is the lack of independent experts, a shortage Dagestan already suffers from and one that it appears Crimea is already experiencing since the Russian annexation.
Many Russian experts are staying away from Crimea not just because of fears of violence but because they are concerned that going to occupied Crimea could limit their opportunities to travel to Europe or the United States. “As a result,” Kadiyev says, the only outsiders there are human rights activists and journalists, neither of whom are much listened to by the authorities.
That lack, he concludes, means that officials in Crimea are making some bad mistakes and those mistakes will cast an ever larger shadow: “Just as the incorrect education of children leads to terrible results for a family, mistakes in the unification of Crimea with the Russian Federation can mean that ‘a favorite child’ will become an unbearable burden.”