Preventing armed conflict in Russia (Dagestan)


Traditional methods of political organisation have helped prevent armed conflict in the Republic of Dagestan during the unrest and instability that has marked life in much of the Caucasus in the post-Soviet period.

As the Soviet Union collapsed and much of the Caucasus descended into war, the diverse and economically poor Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Dagestan appeared at risk of following the path of its neighbours. Like all parts of the Caucasus, the population of Dagestan was affected by the withdrawal (and partial disintegration) of Soviet armed forces in the region and the return of populations, such as Chechens, who had been deported to central Asia in 1944. With over 30 recognised national groups within its borders (including Russians, Chechens, Lezgins, all of whom could seek unity with fraternal populations outside the republic) and a plurality of confessional outlooks within a society awash with small arms, Dagestan was viewed by outside observers as an area at great risk of armed conflict, particularly after the wars in nearby Abkhazia, Chechnya, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh erupted in the early 1990s.1

In contrast to most of the other political units established in the Caucasus during the Soviet period, the structures of government in Dagestan remained in place after 1991 and became the nucleus of the post-communist administration. Indeed, there was widespread support from across Dagestani society for the carefully balanced consociational political system that had developed over the centuries and eventually became formalised within the Soviet constitutional framework of the republic. This was manifested in three separate referenda on the shape of post-Soviet Dagestan’s political administration and the mobilisation of multiethnic Dagestani self-defence units in opposition to incursions by Chechen militants in 1999.2 This system emerged from the djamaat; a traditional method of political organisation focused on territory rather than kinship which created administrative bodies that were inherently multiethnic. The Soviets institutionalised this practice, ensuring that power was always shared among the many groups in Dagestan. The 1994 Dagestan Constitution enshrined these consociational arrangements, with overlapping legislative bodies ensuring that, at the least, the major ethnic groups in the republic were represented in government. In practical terms, this framework makes it very difficult for political platforms premised on ethnic exclusivity to succeed and means that Dagestani leaders are forced to build their political support base on a multiplicity of ethnic groups.3 By maintaining these mechanisms during times of great uncertainty, the people of Dagestan helped to prevent armed conflict in their republic.

1 Christoph Zürcher. The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus. (New York, 2007) p.186

2 Robert Ware & Enver Kisriev. “Ethnic Parity and Democratic Pluralism in Dagestan: A Consociational Approach.” Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1. (2001) pp.111;

3 Ware & Kisriev. “Ethnic Parity and Democratic Pluralism in Dagestan.” pp.111-2; UCDP. Russia (Soviet Union) : Dagestan. (UCDP, 2021) Available at: (Accessed 11/11/2021)

Start Year


End Year



Republic of Dagestan, Russia

UN Regional Group

Eastern Europe

Type of Conflict

Risk of a horizontal (non-state) intrastate conflict

Type of Initiative

Local action

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

Local people and organisations




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