Unless you are a geography major, chances are you have never heard of Dagestan, one of the ethnic republics bordering on the warring Chechnya in southern Russia.
But don't blame yourself. The obscure, largely Muslim, province of 2 million people of several ethnicities is largely ignored by news media not only in this country but in Russia as well.
In fact, Dagestan should have figured in local business news coverage, right next to the story on the expectations of high gasoline prices at the pumps. The Caucasus region, to which Chechnya and Dagestan both belong, is rich in oil and, most important, is where a major oil pipeline is under construction to bring oil from the Caspian Sea region to seaports in Turkey.
Oil that this pipeline was to provide to world markets was expected to help relieve the tight supplies that importers are now experiencing.
Thousands of people rallied July 29 in Khasavyurt, one of Dagestan's major cities, against the corruption-ridden government they blamed for a number of recent assassinations of opposition figures. Soon after the rally, the city police, who answer to the Russian ministry of internal affairs, removed the Russian state emblem from its headquarters and announced that it was now independent from Moscow.
These events occurred just a few weeks after Chechen separatists and their sympathizers in the neighboring Russian province of Ingushetia raided and briefly seized the Ingushetia police headquarters. They killed 100 people, mostly policemen, before escaping with captured weapons and ammunition.
Soon after the Khasavyurt events, the Kremlin responded by what it does best - bureaucratic reshuffle, by creation of a paramilitary police unit of senior officers. Russian President Vladimir Putin met them in the Kremlin and called upon them to "undermine terrorist plans."
It is nothing more than a public-relations stunt. Russia's underfunded, understaffed, and poorly trained police and army troops suffer daily losses in Chechnya after years of engagement. Moreover, they fail to prevent infiltration of Russia's southern borders by Chechen rebels.
Dagestan is a particularly sensitive topic for the Kremlin because that is the republic raided by separatists from neighboring Chechnya in 1999, one of the major events that precipitated the current war in Chechnya.
Conscious of Kremlin sensitivities, most Russian media chose to ignore the Khasavyurt events, failing to report what effectively is ethnic unrest spinning out of control in southern Russia.
One would expect the Kremlin to at least pay the police enough to buy their loyalty. Even dictators in third-world countries were usually smart enough to do that. But the Kremlin was so involved with power games in Moscow, namely with taking over the country's largest oil company, that it obviously has simply overlooked it.
Moreover, the Kremlin is shooting itself in the foot by undermining its only chance to prevent disintegration of Russia.
Driven by basic greed, the Putin regime jails oil executives on trumped-up charges as it strives to gain absolute control over Russian oil cash flows. By doing so, it clears up the field for further and easier takeovers by turning off potential investors who alone are capable of bringing prosperity and peace to the region where people are three times as poor as in the rest of Russia.
So regardless of all the talk of Russia's oil export potential, I would not expect anything but trouble from it, as far as gas pump stickers go.
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