Cablegate Chronicles: The Oligarch's Wedding, Day 1

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This is an installment from our on-going series on the adventures of American diplomats and the people they monitor. The red button below will take you to another random episode.

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A description of a lavish wedding in the Caucasus.

FROM: MOSCOW, RUSSIA
TO: STATE DEPARTMENT
DATE: AUGUST 6, 2006
CLASSIFICATION: CONFIDENTIAL
SEE FULL CABLE


Wedding Day 1 -------------

¶11. (C) An hour before the wedding reception was set to begin the "Marrakech" reception hall was full of guests -- men taking the air outside and women already filling a number of the tables inside, older ones with headscarves chaperoning dozens of teenaged girls. A Dagestani parliamentarian explained that weddings are a principal venue for teenagers -- and more importantly their parents -- to get a look at one another with a view to future matches. Security was tight -- police presence on the ground plus police snipers positioned on the roof of an overlooking apartment block. Gadzhi even assigned one of his guards as our personal bodyguard inside the reception. The manager told Gadzhi there were seats for over a thousand guests at a time. At the height of the reception, it was standing room only.

¶12. (C) At precisely two p.m. the male guests started filing in. They varied from pols and oligarchs of all sorts -- the slick to the Jurassic; wizened brown peasants from Burtunay; and Dagestan's sports and cultural celebrities. Khalid Yamadayev presided over a political table in the smaller of the two halls (the music was in the other) along with Vakha the drunken wrestler, the Ingush parliamentarians, a member of the Federation Council who is also a nanophysicist and has lectured in Silicon Valley, and Gadzhi's cousin Ismail Alibekov, a submariner first rank naval captain now serving at the General Staff in Moscow. The Dagestani milieu appears to be one in which the highly educated and the gun-toting can mix easily -- often in the same person.

¶13. (C) After a couple of hours Dalgat's convoy returned with Aida, horns honking. Dalgat and Aida got out of the Rolls and were serenaded into the hall, and into the Makhachev family, by a boys' chorus lining both sides of the red carpet, dressed in costumes aping medieval Dagestani armor with little shields and swords. The couple's entry was the signal for the emcee to roll into high gear, and after a few toasts the Piter "gypsies" began their performance. (The next day one of Gadzhi's houseguests sneered, "Some gypsies! The bandleader was certainly Jewish, and the rest of them were blonde." There was some truth to this, but at least the two dancing girls appeared to be Roma.)

¶14. (C) As the bands played, the marriageable girls came out to dance the lezginka in what looked like a slowly revolving conga line while the boys sat together at tables staring intently. The boys were all in white shirts and black slacks, while the girls wore a wide variety of multicolored but fashionable cocktail dresses. Every so often someone would shower the dancers with money -- there were some thousand ruble notes but the currency of choice was the U.S. hundred dollar bill. The floor was covered with them; young children would scoop the money up to distribute among the dancers.

¶15. (C) Gadzhi was locked into his role as host. He greeted every guest personally as they entered the hall -- failure to do so would cause great insult -- and later moved constantly from table to table drinking toasts with everyone. The 120 toasts he estimated he drank would have killed anyone, hardened drinker or not, but Gadzhi had his Afghan waiter Khan following him around to pour his drinks from a special vodka bottle containing water. 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 who looked far from home. One, it turned out was a Moscow poet (later she recited an incomprehensible poem in Gadzhi's honor) who MOSCOW 00009533 004 OF 005 was in town with a film director to write the screenplay for a film immortalizing Gadzhi's defense of Dagestan against Shamil Basayev. By 6 p.m. most of the houseguests had returned to Gadzhi's seaside home for more swimming and more jet-skiing-under-the-influence. But by 8 the summer house's restaurant was full once more, the food and drink were flowing, the name performers were giving acoustic renditions of the songs they had sung at the reception, and some stupendously fat guests were displaying their lezginkas for the benefit of the two visiting Russian women, who had wandered over from the reception.

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