In response to the thunderous and inconsequential pronouncements made by Russia’s power structures and top-ranking officials about the situation in the North Caucasus, rebel groups there have been striking Russian interests across the region as if to refute Russian claims. Over the past week, there have been important developments in the North Caucasus that will probably influence the course of events in the region in the near future.
The first was the seizure and attack of the Baksan hydro power station in Kabardino-Balkaria, some 40 kilometers from the republican capital Nalchik, by the rebels from the Yarmuk Jamaat on July 22. Built in the 1930’s, the power station is one of the oldest in the former Soviet Union and modern-day Russia (www.kbf.rushydro.ru/hpp/general/baksanhpp). A day earlier, on July 21, unidentified men had opened fire on a district police station. The entire police force across Kabardino-Balkaria reacted to the assault by swiftly organizing their own defenses against potential new attacks on other police stations. After having had the police gather on one spot, the rebels then conducted their major operation two hours later, around 5:00 a.m., local time, at the Baksan hyrdo power plant, which they seized and destroyed.
The operation was conducted by a group of armed men allegedly belonging to the Baksan branch of the Yarmuk Jamaat and led by a 31-year-old resident of the town of Baksan, Emir Abdul-Jabbar (aka Kazbek Tashuev). Presumably, only a portion of the Baksan Jamaat, comprising four to ten men, was involved in the operation. That means that the rebels knew that no one would resist them. The participants in the operation tied up the power plant’s employees and then planted explosives in the equipment hall and the so-called open distribution device before leaving the premises. At 5:25 a.m., there were two explosions in the equipment hall, causing damage to hydro generators 1 and 2 as well as to the facility’s control systems. Oil that leaked from the damaged equipment ignited. An explosive device inserted in hydro generator 3 malfunctioned and was later defused by a group of bomb disposal experts. At 5:50 a.m., two more explosions followed damaging two oil switches. Two police officers, Aslan Mezhgikhov and Timur Tutukov, were killed in the attack (www.kp.ru, July 21).
Trying to repel public anger against the authorities, the Russian government started to disseminate information about the police officers being barbarically killed in their sleep and technical personnel being sadistically tortured by the terrorists (www.gazeta.ru, July 21). However, employees at the Baksan power plant have not confirmed the claims made by Russian authorities (Ekho Moskvy, July 24). It should be remembered that the power plant is on the list of the Russian Federation’s strategically important facilities, making the rebel strike even more painful for the Kremlin. After the attack, the government was compelled to reinforce security at all power plants in the North Caucasus region (www.svobodanews.ru, July 21).
The attack has vividly shown the rebels’ capability to hit any place at any time, while revealing the ineptness of law enforcement who are now concerned with their own protection and survival. In line with tradition, the Russian law enforcement agencies immediately reported to their superiors that they had liquidated the militants involved in the seizure of the Baksan power plant (www.news.mail.ru, July 25). However, along another Russian tradition, rebels who had been eliminated were declared responsible for all the crimes carried out over the past several years. There is little concern in Russia that the plant employees did not give testimony about those who had been killed in the operation. Law enforcement’s primary focus is to make up imaginary and farcical reports for their superiors. No matter what, the Yarmuk Jamaat’s regular assaults on Russian interests prove that the organization is fully functional and comparable in strength and intensity with the jamaats in Dagestan and Ingushetia.
The news from Chechnya this past week was no less significant. The leader of the North Caucasus armed resistance movement, Doku Umarov, made a surprising announcement on who will succeed him as Emir of the Caucasus Emirate in case he is killed or arrested (www.kavkazcenter.com, July 24). He named Emir Aslanbek (aka Aslanbek Vadapov), one of the most famous rebels in Chechnya, as his successor. Before becoming Umarov’s deputy and assistant, he served as the emir of Chechnya’s eastern front –the late Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov’s, traditional stronghold. The very fact that Umarov designated his successor means that he gave serious consideration to the recent arrest of Magas (aka Ahmed Yevloev or Ali Taziev), the military emir of the Caucasus Emirate. The capture of Magas (without being killed in the operation) was the most shocking part of the news for the rebel leadership. All leaders of the Caucasus jamaats realize that the most severe punishment awaits them if they are arrested by the Russians and that is why they will never surrender and will instead defend themselves to the very last minute, regardless of the Russian government’s promises.
Umarov’s new heir apparently has the blessing of Emir Supyan (aka Supyan Abdulaev) who holds the highest rank, as Umarov’s first deputy, to become the successor and head the resistance movement in the Caucasus. Emir Magas, who was the second man in the hierarchy, is now under arrest in Moscow. The third highest in the ranks of the Caucasus Emirate is the qadi, or the supreme Sharia judge. The leader of the Dagestani mujahideen, Emir Seifullah of Gubden (aka Magomed Vagapov), recently assumed the powers of the supreme qadi, succeeding Emir Seifullah, who was killed in March 2010.
By bypassing the hierarchical structure of the Caucasus Emirate that he himself created, Umarov has brought to the top one of the most capable military commanders of the Chechen Jamaat. Apparently, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to keep the Chechens under their command if someone else had been appointed, given that the Chechen Jamaat is the very foundation of the North Caucasus armed resistance movement.