Dagestan Dubbed the Most Dangerous Place In the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 12 Issue: 19

On October 3, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev met the head of Dagestan’s government, Magomedsalam Magomedov, in Makhachkala. “The degree of the terrorist threat testifies that Dagestan is in the worst state [compared with] the other republics of the North Caucasian Federal District,” Nurgaliev concluded at the meeting. The commander of the Russian Interior Ministry troops, Nikolai Rogozhkin, and the head of the Interior Ministry’s North Caucasus department, Sergei Chenchik, along with other top security officials, took part in the meeting, a sign of how precarious the situation in the region’s biggest republic is (www.riadagestan.ru, October 3).

Nurgaliev pointed out that despite some improvement, law enforcement actions in Dagestan were still prone to failure. According to the interior minister, government forces have killed 154 and arrested 161 insurgents since the start of 2011. Only the rebels surrendered to the authorities in the same period, said Nurgaliev. Two task force groups were set up in the republic to thwart financing of the insurgents and the embezzlement of budget funds. “Informational countering of extremism” was yet another function assigned to these special groups (www.riadagestan.ru, October 3; www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 4). Mentioning the misuse of budget funds and the financing of rebels in the same statement may be another indicator that the rebels in Dagestan have received funds from the republican budget. It is likely that the police included in the 161 insurgents they said were detained all everyone suspected of involvement, not necessarily real militants.

Earlier in September, the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website, which closely monitors developments in the North Caucasus, gave the figures of 315 killed and 224 wounded people on all sides in Dagestan since the start of 2011 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 14). According to Dagestan’s interior minister, Abdurashid Magomedov, crime increased in the republic by six percent and grave crimes by 4.5 during the period of January-September 2011 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 4).

Not infrequently, several attacks a day take place in Dagestan. On September 3, a car laden with estimated 20 kilograms of TNT exploded in Kizilyurt, a town in the north of Dagestan, killing two policemen. A policeman and his daughter were injured when a bomb hit their car on the same day near Makhachkala. The blast had an estimated force of five kilograms of TNT (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 3-4).

In the meantime, the government came up with new measures to reduce the threat of terrorism in Russia. Southern Russian regions will now be required to register passengers on interregional buses using their IDs. Some large Russian cities will also be required to ask bus passengers for their IDs. A comprehensive safety system is supposed to be installed on Russian’s transportation networks by 2014, according to the government plan (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 30).

Dagestani activists are increasingly reverting to civil forms of protest. On October 3, an estimated 500 people organized a rally against corruption in the republic. Dagestani veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war led the action. The police allowed the protesters to gather, but then moved on to disperse and arrest them. The protesters alleged that police attacked them with electric shockers. Photographs provided by Kavkazsky Uzel show the demonstrators carrying signs denouncing extralegal killings in Dagestan and abuse of power by the police. One of the signs said “Muslims are tired of the lawlessness of security services” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 3).

Civil protests by Russian nationalists against North Caucasians might have received yet another impetus. On October 2, an 18-year-old ethnic Russian was killed in a fight between ethnic Russians and Dagestanis in Podolsk, near Moscow. Nationalists are reportedly preparing to stage “another Manezhka” – a reference to the December 2010 gathering on Maznezhnaya square in Moscow, when thousands of Russian nationalists violently protested against crime committed by North Caucasians and the way they are dealt with by the state (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 4).

Dagestan is increasingly emerging as the key North Caucasus region also because of its proximity and links to Azerbaijan. A substantial number of ethnic Dagestanis, such as Avars and Lezgins, traditionally live in Azerbaijan. For their part, ethnic Azeris traditionally reside in Dagestan, especially in the southern part of the republic. In an effort to facilitate economic development in the North Caucasus, Moscow’s envoy to the region, Aleksandr Khloponin, led a large delegation from Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria to Azerbaijan on October 4. The delegation is expected to meet with Azerbaijan’s prime minister, Artur Rasi-zade, and president, Ilham Aliev on October 5. Unspecified economic agreements between Azerbaijan and the North Caucasian republics are scheduled for signing (www.riadagestan.ru, October 4).

The absence of representatives from Chechnya in the North Caucasus delegation to Azerbaijan is an eloquent confirmation of the strained relations between Khloponin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. All the other republics of the North Caucasus are represented in the delegation by their heads of governments.

On October 4 in Baku, Azerbaijan, the North Caucasian republics made presentations to potential Azeri investors on investment opportunities. However, it is unclear why the Azeri government or private investors would invest in the neighboring North Caucasus region, whose volatility and poor investment climate are well known in Azerbaijan. Khloponin stated that Russia regarded Azerbaijan as its “reliable and strategic partner” and would welcome Azeri investments in the North Caucasus. Russian investments in Azerbaijan reportedly reached $400 million, as stated by Azerbaijan’s minster for economic development, Shahin Mustafaev, and Azeri-Russian bilateral trade in January-August 2011 reached $2 billion (http://news.day.az/economy/291643.html).

It is an open question whether Moscow is trying to use Azeri money in the North Caucasus or establish another point of influence in Azerbaijan using the bait of investments in the North Caucasus. While Moscow indicates it is inclined to open up the region for foreign investors, it would first have to break the North Caucasus’ isolation from the outside world. However, with Vladimir Putin back in the Kremlin, the prospects of easing up travel and other restrictions in the North Caucasus look slim.