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POWER WEDDING

Drunken politicians. Smiling warlords. Twirling gypsies. Thousands of U.S. dollars littered on the dance floor. The bridegroom's father with a gold-plated automatic pistol tucked in his pants. A classic Rolls-Royce Silver Phantom.

Those were some of the scenes U.S. diplomats described after attending a Russian wedding in the Dagestan republic of the wild North Caucasus.

"Dagestani weddings are serious business: a forum for showing respect, fealty and alliance among families; the bride and groom are little more than showpieces," according to a confidential cable from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 2006.

The report, released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks earlier this month, provides a candid view of life in the restless region, rich in oil but beset by sporadic violence from Muslim extremists.

The power wedding that the U.S. diplomats observed was hosted by Gadzhi Makhachev, the enormously wealthy chief of the Dagestan Oil Co. and a member of the Russian parliament. His son, Dalgat, married Aida Sharipova, also from a prominent family.

"The lavish display and heavy drinking concealed the deadly serious North Caucasus politics of land, ethnicity, clan and alliance," the cable said. "The guest list spanned the Caucasus power structure - guest-starring Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov [a warlord and former rebel] - and underlined just how personal the region's politics can be."

The wedding began on Aug. 22 and lasted the customary three days, which included around-the-clock receptions, mounds of food and massive amounts of vodka. Mr. Makhachev, who has survived "numerous" assassination attempts, hosted most of the celebration at his "enormous" and "heavily guarded" summer house on the Caspian Sea.

The compound included a 130-foot-high airport tower, a tennis court and piers fitted for launching personal watercraft.

Food was abundant.

"The cooks seemed to keep whole sheep and whole cows boiling in a cauldron somewhere day and night, dumping disjointed fragment of the carcass on the tables whenever someone entered the room," the cable said.

Mr. Makhachev's main act, a Syrian-born crooner named Avraam Russo, "could not make it because he was shot a few days before the wedding," the cable said, nonchalantly.

However the dancing gypsies, dozens of local bands and "Benya, the accordion king," and his family of singers provided enough entertainment to keep hundreds of guests happy, especially the proud father of the groom.

"The 120 toasts [Mr. Makhachev] estimated he drank would have killed anyone, hardened drinker or not," the cable said. "Still he was much the worse for wear by evening's end. At one point we caught up with him dancing with two scantily clad Russian women."

The diplomats noted that Mr. Makhachev danced with a gold-plated pistol tucked in the waistband of his pants.

Mr. Kadyrov, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, showed up on the second day with dozens of "heavily armed mujahedin" as bodyguards. Mr. Makhachev signaled for a fireworks display and reminded his guests, many of whom carried sidearms, to refrain from firing their guns during the celebration.

The Chechen president showered many of the young guests with thousands of dollars, as they twirled about doing the traditional "lezginka" dance. The diplomats estimated Mr. Kadyrov threw away $5,000 on the dancers.

At some point, the bride and groom arrived in the Rolls-Royce, and the guests continued dancing and drinking.

- Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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