Islamic militants continue to show their strength and ruthlessness in the face of superior Russian firepower. Contrary to reports in the Russian press, federal forces failed to drive the Islamists out of the villages of Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi, which they have controlled for over a year. In Buinaksk, about thirty miles from the disputed villages, an explosion in a residential district with a large military population killed at least thirty persons on September 4. The blast came a year to the day after a similar explosion in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala left fourteen dead.
The guerrillas’ bases in the mountains are well stocked with food and weapons. Federal forces have been unable to cut the flow of men and materiel flow from neighboring Chechnya. In Dagestan, Wahabbism–as militant, politicized Islamic fundamentalism is called in the Caucasus–has significant support among the population. The press secretary of Dagestan’s State Council, who is likely to understate the case, told the Monitor’s correspondent that from 5 to 10 percent of the republic’s population supports this variant of Islam. If the Russian response to Wahabbi terrorism harms the civilian population, the numbers in favor of a violent separation from Russia will undoubtedly rise.