Additional Buildup of Military Forces in Dagestan Proceeds with Caution

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 11 Issue: 10

On November 14, Russian Deputy Interior Minister, Nikolai Rogozhkin, who is commander of the ministry’s internal troops, announced the first native Dagestani military detachment formation. The new unit is comprised of 300 people and eventually will grow to 700 servicemen. Rogozhkin concisely expressed Moscow’s hopes: “The unit is mostly comprised of Dagestanis who performed their military service in the Russian army. We expect that Dagestanis themselves will give a proper rebuff to the bandit scum that is tying to terrorize the local population” (, November 14).

The decision to set up a locally manned military unit was announced earlier on September 27. The move was modeled on the example of Chechnya, where Moscow pursued the so-called policy of “Chechenization,” recruiting former insurgents to fight their former comrades. However, infrastructural problems and lack of financing have plagued the establishment of a Dagestani military force.

Instability in the North Caucasus manifests itself most evidently in Dagestan. Two-thirds of those lost on the government side in the North Caucasus in 2010 were killed in Dagestan. According to Dagestan’s interior ministry, 104 members of the law enforcement agencies and 123 suspected militants have been killed in the republic since the beginning of 2010 (, November 14).

On November 11, a group of four militants staged a series of spectacular quick attacks and retreats in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala. The group attacked several grocery stores that sold alcohol, as well as policemen and military personnel. The militants killed 7 servicemen before the police, aided by the Russian military, managed to kill them in a shootout (Kommersant, November 12).   

The Kremlin is trying to exert additional pressure on the North Caucasian leaders to make them more eager to quell the insurgency. On November 8, President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to dismiss those republican leaders who fail to make progress in reducing the level of insurgent activity. The Russian president entrusted this evaluation to his envoy in the region, Aleksandr Khloponin. Experts say, however, that it is unlikely Khloponin will use his powers anytime soon, given that the three most restive republics –Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan– acquired their leaders not long ago. Rather, Medvedev’s statement should be interpreted as an attempt to boost Khloponin’s credentials as a powerful decision-maker. The head of the Russian parliament’s committee on security, Vladimir Vasiliev, held up Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov as the desirable type of leader in terms of security (Kommersant, November 9).

However, speaking in the Russian parliament on October 25, Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General, Ivan Sydoruk, who oversees the North Caucasus, expressed the opposite opinion about Chechnya. According to Sydoruk, in the first ten months of 2010, 352 terrorist attacks took place in the North Caucasus and 254 of them were carried out in Chechnya. The next day, October 26, the Chechen interior ministry stated there was not a single terrorist attack in Chechnya in 2010. Sydoruk said that 400 insurgents were killed, reflecting an increase in the number of suicide bombers, while the law enforcement agencies suffered 205 casualties in the same period.

Sydoruk was very critical of the law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus, calling for a massive clean-up of the police forces “to get rid of cowards and traitors.” Also, he stressed the problem of illegal arms, most of which are sold by corrupt government officials to the insurgents. In the first ten months of 2010, over 500 guns and 100 grenade launchers were confiscated by the police forces (Interfax, October 25). Sydoruk later backtracked on his statements about massive betrayal on the local police forces’ side in the North Caucasus, saying that the media misrepresented his words (Kommersant, October 28). Even if there are many cases of the law enforcement members aiding the insurgents, it would be not in the best interests of Moscow to admit that, as this would reflect badly on its standing in the North Caucasus.

Meanwhile, the Dagestani government set up a commission to help repentant insurgents adapt to civilian life. On November 17, the commission issued a special guide for people willing to give up their resistance and surrender to the authorities. However, the government appears to have failed to provide any additional guarantees for the rebels, outside of those that are already incorporated in the Russian Criminal Code, such as reaching a deal with investigators, revealing the identity of accomplices and receiving shorter jail terms. The head of the commission, Dagestani Deputy Prime Minister, Rizvan Kurbanov, reportedly made an astonishing statement to the members of the commission, saying that president of Dagestan had promised that those who surrender would not be subjected to torture by the police (, November 17). If this assertion is read backwards, it represents a tacit official recognition of that suspected insurgents are tortured in Dagestani detention centers.

Conflicting statements by Russian officials, inconclusive actions like the halfhearted amnesty for insurgents in Dagestan and the creation of a local military force in Dagestan indicate deep divisions inside the Russian government on what to do next in the North Caucasus. The serious rifts among the key political players in Moscow in regard to North Caucasus policy make it hard for Moscow to pursue a particular strategy. It is more likely there will be no drastic changes in Moscow’s approach to the North Caucasus in the near future, although administrative reshuffles are still a possibility. As Russia enters a new electoral period, with parliamentary elections in 2011 and presidential elections in 2012, the North Caucasus will most likely be used in internal political battles.