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Dagestan, breeding ground for Islamism under Russian drip

The airport in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, was closed on Sunday October 29 evening after being stormed by dozens of individuals.

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Dagestan, breeding ground for Islamism under Russian drip

The airport in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, was closed on Sunday October 29 evening after being stormed by dozens of individuals. The latter entered violently to attack a plane coming from Tel Aviv (Israel). At 9:30 p.m. French time, the Russian aviation agency reported that the crowd had been evacuated. This Monday morning, the Russian Interior Ministry informed that 60 people were arrested and that 9 police officers were injured in the clashes. Le Figaro looks back on the history and sociology of this little-known autonomous republic, subject of the Russian Federation.

Dagestan is located in the Northeast Caucasus Mountains, bordering the Caspian Sea. It shares borders with Chechnya and Kalmykia, two republics of the Russian Federation, as well as Azerbaijan and Georgia. In 1860, the region populated mainly by Turkish-speaking populations fell into the hands of Russia and became an oblast of the empire. It then successively transformed into the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Dagestan in 1921, then became one of the 22 republics of the Russian Federation in 1991, when the wall fell.

In 1999, Dagestan was destabilized by an insurrection triggered by Islamists from Chechnya, which triggered the Second Chechen War and the invasion of this other republic by Russia.

But unlike its cumbersome neighbor, Dagestan has never expressed any secessionist desires, thanks in particular to its great ethnic and linguistic diversity. Its population of more than three million inhabitants makes it the demographically largest republic in the North Caucasus.

Since then, Dagestan's depleted economy has relied largely on federal budget transfers from Russia. Around 70% of the republic's annual budget is allocated each year by Moscow, specifies the media Orient XXI, specializing in the Arab world. In terms of the volume of federal subsidies, Dagestan took first place among the Russian republics in 2020, with 814 million euros, far ahead of the Sakha Republic (621 million euros), Chechnya (508 million) and Crimea (497 million euros), according to the Russian economic news site RBC.

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But this funding is not the simple fruit of Russian generosity. A major naval base has in fact been installed in Kaspiisk since 2020. It has become the command center of the country's navy on the Caspian Sea, a highly strategic perimeter on a regional scale. Dagestan has also been crossed for several decades by transport routes for raw materials, particularly gas and oil.

The other side of the coin: Dagestan was plagued by endemic corruption in the years 2000-2010. So much so that in 2017, shortly before his re-election, Vladimir Putin decided to place one of his loyalists at the head of the republic, the former Duma deputy Vladimir Abdoulaïevitch Vassiliev (he will resign for health reasons in 2020) . He is the first head of the republic since 1948 to be neither Muslim nor from one of the major Dagestani ethnic groups since he is an Orthodox Christian and of Kazakh ancestry. Its main mission is to purify Dagestan's accounts.

But Vladimir Abdoulaïevich Vassiliev is also given the objective of fighting against the terrorist threat. Since 2007, Dagestan has been threatened by the desire to establish a “Caucasus Emirate” by Chechen warlord Dokou Oumarov. A wave of terrorism hits the republic and in particular its security forces. It is severely repressed, particularly in anticipation of the Sochi Olympics in 2014, which fuels the radicalization of certain elements in Dagestan. Within the republic, 85% of the inhabitants are Muslims, mainly from the Sunni Shafiite movement of the Sufi tradition, underlines Orient XXI.

Also read: Chechnya, home of radical Islamism since the 1990s

In 2017, Russia became the leading country exporting foreign fighters in the ranks of the Islamic State, ahead of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia. The organization has 3,400 Russians, the majority of them Chechens and Dagestanis. A note from Sciences Po dating from 2017 reports 4,000 to 5,000 Russian citizens having reached Syria and Iraq since 2012 to join the ranks of the various jihadist factions, including more than 1,000 Dagestani and Chechens.

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