For the past 15 years, bloodshed has been commonplace in the North Caucasus and illegal actions by the regional authorities have not been considered criminal. And during that whole period, regional officials have found ways to use official statistics to cast the situation there in a favorable light.
In the latest example in the game of twisting numbers, the government recently supplied figures related to the fight against the region’s Islamist insurgency for the last 10 years, even though the conflict dates back to the fall of 1999. According to Sergei Chenchik, head of the Russian interior ministry’s main directorate in the North Caucasus federal district, over 4,000 terrorism-related events took place in the district in the period from 2004 to 2013. Over 600 terrorist acts were carried out, 3,025 militants were killed and 6,655 militants and their accomplices were arrested and another 1,318 people surrendered to the authorities voluntarily during this period. A police official gave these figures at the interagency forum on countering the ideology of extremism and terrorism in the North Caucasus, which was held in Makhachkala on July 2 (md-gazeta.ru, July 02).
These figures indicate that in the past 10 years, one terrorism-related incident took place on average every day, while a terrorist attack took place on average every six days. The police killed one militant almost every day and, roughly speaking, arrested two people tied to the insurgency daily. Also, human casualties, including both those who were killed and wounded, just among interior ministry personnel alone was greater than the number of killed and wounded militants. Given these official statistics, any attempt to talk about stabilization of the North Caucasus is frivolous.
The interagency forum held in Makhachkala on July 2, which was chaired by Sergei Melikov, Moscow’s new envoy to the North Caucasus federal district, was designed to demonstrate unity between the various Russian federal agencies and the leadership of Dagestan (riadagestan.ru, July 02). However, Dagestan’s leader Ramazan Abdulatipov was notably absent from the event. Nor was Abdulatipov present when Sergei Melikov was traveling throughout the republic on July 4. Instead, Dagestan’s prime minister accompanied Melikov (dagpravda.ru, July 03). Abdulatipov’s conspicuous absence, however, may signify that he has disagreements with Melikov.
Whatever the situation is among the Dagestani elites, the meeting in Makhachkala underscored the shortcomings of the republican authorities. For example, it turned out that 250 non-governmental organizations provide Islamic education to about 3,000 people in Dagestan, while another 450 students study abroad. At the same time, only 59 religious education institutions have officially registered with the Dagestani justice ministry and only one higher education institution and 14 madrasahs have appropriate licenses (chernovik.net, July 04).
The authorities’ solution to resolving the issue of Islamic education institutions without licenses emerged out of an incident that took place in the village of Maidanskoe in Dagestan’s Untsukul district. According to village residents, the police blew up a house and a madrasa in Maidanskoe. According to Sirazhutdin Datsiev, a representative of the Memorial human rights center in Dagestan, the police took that action after arresting a suspected militant in the local mosque (dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 08).
The madrasa, which was housed in a prefabricated panel house next to the main mosque, was destroyed using grenade launchers. An anonymous resident of Maidanskoe later told the Kavkazsky Uzel website that the police blew up another six houses belonging to local residents Nurudin Magomedov, Kabir Sachadov, Gairbek Abdullaev, Patimat Abidova and Magomed Abdullaev (kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 08).
It is unlikely this example of combatting militants and illegal Islamic education institutions will result in agreement and understanding in Dagestani society. Locals will be upset over unlawful actions by servicemen, deployed by Moscow to Dagestan from other Russian regions, whose actions are not controlled by the republican authorities.
The government adopted a program called “Informational counteraction of the ideology of extremism and terrorism in the Republic of Dagestan in 2014-2016.” The head of the commission, Deputy Dagestani Prime Minister Ramazan Jafarov, explained that 32 people returned to civilian life in 2013, another 20 applied for pardons in 2014 and 12 were under the commission’s consideration. So, out of several hundred slain and wounded rebels, only five percent were inclined to return to civilian life (kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 14).
As in other republics of the North Caucasus, authorities in Dagestan have failed to achieve tangible results in combatting extremism, and this failure has an explanation. The authorities, who are not trusted by the population, cannot be guarantors for those who abandon the insurgency and hope to be amnestied. All the republics of the North Caucasus apparently spend the money allotted by Moscow on other things and, in order to account for the expenditures, inflate the number of militants who have surrendered. Indeed, no insurgents of any importance have been spotted among those who have surrendered themselves voluntarily. The co-chair of the Territory of Peace and Development civil movement, Abbas Kebedov, believes that none of the actual militants from the “forest” actually have gone through the commission, because the commission did not guarantee either their personal safety or that the law would be observed during their trials (rusplt.ru, June 25, 2013).
The new leader of the North Caucasus militants, Abu Muhammad, is likely to have better sway among the population than government officials, because he is better educated in Islamic teaching than his predecessor, Doku Umarov. Abu Muhammad can combine his leadership of the militants with knowledge of Islamic theology and achieve greater results. The new emir is likely to have even greater influence among those people, who think Islam obligates them to fight against Moscow’s policies in the North Caucasus, which will increase support for the insurgency. In 2011, polls showed that 12 percent of Dagestani youth supported the ideas and tactics of the rebels (kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 09, 2011).
It is unlikely that these statistics have plummeted during the past two and a half years, since the developments in Dagestan have indicated an increase in the number of supporters of the insurgency. Thus, the authorities’ optimistic statements about stabilization of the situation in the region contradict the trends in society, which is experiencing a cycle of ideological, religious and ethnic confrontation.