Wedding in the Caucasus The US Ambassador Learns that Cognac Is Like Wine

It was surely one of the strangest parties ex-US Ambassador to Moscow William Burns ever attended. In August 2006, he sent a dispatch to the US State Department describing a high society wedding in the Caucasus -- complete with massive quantities of alcohol, lumps of gold and revolver-wielding drunkards.

Wedding guest Ramzan Kadyrov with his golden pistol in 2007.
AP

Wedding guest Ramzan Kadyrov with his golden pistol in 2007.


Burns, now under secretary of state for political affairs in the US State Department, was the US ambassador in Moscow from 2005 to 2008. This confidential dispatch, excerpts of which are presented here, is from Aug. 31, 2006.

"On August 22, (the oil magnate) Gadzhi Makhachev married off his 19 year-old son Dalgat to Aida Sharipova. The wedding in Makhachkala, which we attended, was a microcosm of the social and political relations of the North Caucasus, beginning with Gadzhi's own biography.

"Gadzhi started off as an Avar clan leader ... the largest nationality in Dagestan. As Russian power faded, each canton fielded a militia to defend its people both in the mountains and the capital Makhachkala. Gadzhi became the leader from his home canton....

"Gadzhi has cashed in the social capital he made from nationalism, translating it into financial and political capital -- as head of Dagestan's state oil company and as the single-mandate representative for Makhachkala in Russia's State Duma. His dealings in the oil business -- including close cooperation with U.S. firms -- have left him well off enough to afford luxurious houses in Makhachkala, Kaspiysk, Moscow, Paris and San Diego; and a large collection of luxury automobiles, including the Rolls Royce Silver Phantom in which Dalgat fetched Aida from her parents' reception. (Gadzhi gave us a lift in the Rolls once in Moscow, but the legroom was somewhat constricted by the presence of a Kalashnikov carbine at our feet. Gadzhi has survived numerous assassination attempts, as have most of the still-living leaders of Dagestan.) ...

The Day Before

"Gadzhi's Kaspiysk summer house is an enormous structure on the shore of the Caspian, essentially a huge circular reception room -- much like a large restaurant -- attached to a 40-meter high green airport tower on columns, accessible only by elevator, with a couple of bedrooms, a reception room, and a grotto whose glass floor was the roof of a huge fish tank.... The house filled up with visitors from all over the Caucasus during the afternoon of August 21. The Chair of Ingushetia's parliament drove in with two colleagues; visitors from Moscow included politicians (and) businessmen.... Another group of Gadzhi's boyhood friends from Khasavyurt was led by a man who looked like Shamil Basayev on his day off -- flip-flops, t-shirt, baseball cap, beard -- but turned out to be the chief rabbi of Stavropol Kray....

"The cooks seemed to keep whole sheep and whole cows boiling in a cauldron somewhere day and night, dumping disjointed fragments of the carcass on the tables whenever someone entered the room.... The alcohol consumption before, during and after this ... wedding was stupendous. Amidst an alcohol shortage, Gadzhi had flown in from the Urals thousands of bottles of Beluga Export vodka.... There was also entertainment, beginning even that day.... Gadzhi's main act, a Syrian-born singer named Avraam Russo, could not make it because he was shot a few days before the wedding.... The main activity of the day was eating and drinking... with a bout of jet skiing in the Caspian....

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