Another Lost Year for the Kremlin in the North Caucasus: 2010 in Review (Part One)

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 12 Issue: 1

By the end of 2010, the Russian government’s policy toward the North Caucasus unexpectedly received perhaps the strongest setback right on the Moscow streets. On December 11, 2010 a crowd of Russian nationalists estimated to be 5,000 people staged riots near the Kremlin, shouting such slogans as “Russia for Russians” and demanding the deportation of North Caucasians from Moscow. The crowd attacked people with darker and Asian facial appearance while the police remained helpless against these aggressive groups for hours. The protest came after a Russian soccer team fan was killed in Moscow in a street clash with a group of North Caucasians on December 6.  Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later met the soccer fans after their uprising and expressed his sympathies. He also suggested that the rules for internal migration should be tightened in the country and that ethnic groups should respect each other’s behavioral code (, December 21, 2010).

The irony of the situation was that the government had earlier come up with a strategy for the socio-economic development of the North Caucasus that was supposed to encourage internal migration in Russia. According to the plans outlined in the strategy, an estimated 40,000 people from the North Caucasus who were suffering from chronic unemployment should have been resettled in inner Russian regions, while some highly skilled ethnic Russians would migrate to the North Caucasus (, September 6, 2010).

The riots in Moscow as well as several other big Russian cities and the government authorities’ timid reaction to them showed that plans to mix the North Caucasus population with ethnic Russians artificially by a government decree were unrealistic. Moreover, even the talk about dumping the North Caucasus as such intensified among Russian thinkers.

The beginning of 2010 was promising for Russia and the North Caucasus. Dagestan’s president, Mukhu Aliev, who matured politically during the Soviet era, was replaced with a young professor and politician, Magomedsalam Magomedov, on February 10 (, February 10, 2010). Both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin talked about the North Caucasus virtually every week. On February 27, Medvedev visited Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Only two days later, on March 1, Putin visited North Ossetia and Ingushetia. Overall, Putin and Medvedev visited each of the seven republics of the North Caucasus, including Adygea in 2010 (,, accessed on January 11, 2011).

In his November 2009 state of the nation address, President Medvedev proclaimed the instability in the North Caucasus as the single biggest internal political problem of Russia. Medvedev put unusual emphasis on the need to develop the North Caucasian economies and thereby undercut the support for Islamic insurgents in the region, as opposed simply to using brute force (, November 12, 2009). On January 19, 2010, to the surprise of most observers, President Medvedev decreed the creation of a new North Caucasian Federal District, comprised of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Stavropol Krai and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The Republic of Adygea was left out of the new district, while the predominantly ethnic Russian populated Stavropol region was incorporated into it, leaving the open possibility of its absorption into Krasnodar province. The president also shocked the public by appointing a complete outsider to govern the new federal district the same day: Aleksandr Khloponin, who had served previously as the governor of the large Krasnoyarsk region in central Siberia. A month later, on February 18, one of the leading hawks of Moscow’s operations in the North Caucasus, Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev, was dismissed.

The Kremlin explained that the decision to create the North Caucasus Federal District was made to better focus on the problems that all of the republics share. Stavropol Krai was added to connect all other regions and to balance the overwhelming non-Russian population of the district. However, some observers alleged the purpose of setting up the new federal district was to separate the unstable republics from Krasnodar region, where the 2014 winter Olympics will be held. Some Russian analysts even expressed the fear that the new district could easily break out of Russia, as it united almost all of the North Caucasian republics into the same administrative unit.

Khloponin was dubbed a highly efficient economic manager who also had the merit of successfully negotiating the merger of two smaller regions with the larger Krasnoyarsk territory. It was expected that Khloponin would turn the North Caucasus into a development hub, cut the unemployment rate and provide brighter prospects for young people who had been attracted by the militant’s ideology of jihad.

Administrative changes in the North Caucasus in January 2010 were followed by notable achievements by the Russian security services in eliminating militant leaders in the region. On March 2, a young, charismatic Islamist ideologue, Said Buryatsky was killed in Ingushetia. On March 24, Anzor Astemirov, aka emir Seifullah, an authoritative leader of the militants in Kabardino-Balkaria and a member of the old Circassian nobility, was killed in Nalchik. Even more surprisingly, the notorious emir Magas, aka Ali Taziev, was captured alive in Ingushetia on June 9. The security services managed to also kill two leaders of Dagestani insurgents, Ibragim Gadzhidadaev and Magomedali Vagabov, in 2010.

While the killing and capturing of insurgent leaders appear to testify to the efficiency of the Russian security services, these accomplishments might be of questionable worth. The number of terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus in 2010 doubled in comparison to 2009, which was also a very violent year.  Suicide attacks spread and at least two industrial plants – hydroelectric plants in Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan – were targeted by regional militants. But, most notably, terror returned to the Moscow metro after a six year absence, when two suicide bombers, allegedly a widow and a wife of two Dagestani emirs, blew themselves up in Moscow metro on March 29, killing 40 people (RIA Novosti, March 30, 2010).

The number and scope of attacks in Ingushetia following the capture of emir Magas in June 2010 plummeted. However, they did not stop and the general public staged several protest actions against disappearances in the republic as the law enforcement agencies continued the practice of illegal kidnapping and detention. Soon after Anzor Astemirov was killed, the previously quiet republic of Kabardino-Balkaria exploded with daily attacks against the police and the government officials. Astemirov’s successor reportedly chose the path of vigorously fighting the government forces, in contrast to Astemirov, who was in favor of quietly building up strength and winning supporters. The emir of Dagestan, Magomedali Vagabov, was killed on August 21, 2010.  Given the fact that he was accused of masterminding the attack in the Moscow metro in March, his killing, as opposed to capture, was not necessarily a great success for the security services.  There was no mention of capturing a single organizer of the attack in the Moscow metro, while several people purportedly connected to it were killed.

At best, the Russian security services activities had mixed results in the North Caucasus in 2010. Law enforcement evidently suffered from a lack of reliable information on the ground and therefore was forced to attack the insurgents without accurate and precise information. The impunity that law enforcement enjoys in the North Caucasus contributed to its lack of interest in improving the quality of its work. Most notably, on February 11 and 12, in the border area between Chechnya and Ingushetia, the Russian security services killed at least four Chechen civilians who were gathering wild onions in the forests. The victims’ families were giving financial compensation, but no formal investigation was carried out (, February 13, 2010).