Dagestan Remains the Deadliest Republic of the North Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 167

Dagestani politician and deputy in Russia’s State Duma, Rizvan Kurbanov (Source: Caucasian Knot)
On August 28, Dagestan’s President Magomedsalam Magomedov presided over an extraordinary joint meeting of the Security Council of Dagestan and the Coordination Council for Law Enforcement in Dagestan. The leader of the republic unexpectedly proposed the idea of establishing self-defense units in the republic (https://05.mvd.ru/news/302958/). The proposal to some degree copied the idea of Kuban Governor Alexander Tkachyov, who earlier in August proposed the creation of a Cossack patrol force numbering up to 1,000 men that would thwart “quiet” migration of North Caucasians into the Krasnodar region (www.yuga.ru/articles/society/6390.html). Under Tkachyov’s plan, the newly created force would essentially be under his personal command as it would be financed from the regional budget rather than by the Russian Interior Ministry.
At this point it is still hard to speak of specific figures, but in Dagestan, there will certainly be no less than 1,000 self-defense group member slots available. Magomedov addressed the heads of Dagestan’s cities and districts: “I think that today we will make the decision to set up, under the auspices of the law enforcement agencies, self-defense units, squads of young people prepared to provide safety, (and) punish those bandits and terrorists” (www.ng.ru/regions/2012-08-30/1_samooborona.html). Thus, he immediately outlined the task of the self-defense units as fighting terrorists. But it is not entirely clear how these people’s guards might help the police and Federal Security Service (FSB) fight the militants, who are called terrorists in Dagestan. It means these units will have to be armed: otherwise, it will be impossible for them to fight the insurgents.
A well-known Dagestani politician and deputy in Russia’s State Duma, Rizvan Kurbanov, suggested that members of the self-defense groups be armed. In order to achieve this, Kurbanov said, “a private security company under republican government control should be created; the company’s employees will be licensed and their weapons will belong to the Interior Ministry” (www.kommersant.ru/doc/2011374?isSearch=True). This proposition is something that the regional protégés of the Kremlin, longing for forces under their personal control, have dreamt of for a long time.
Dagestan is made up of numerous small ethnic groups, so the establishment of people’s squads out of the bigger Dagestani nationalities, such as Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins and Laks, will not be received favorably by the other ethnic groups. Another important constraint is the overwhelming Islamization of the republic. There are numerous Islamic higher education institutions, schools for Koran studies under every mosque, many Sufi sheikhs, and Sharia law practice, all of which will not allow President Magomedov to get the results he expects. These personal militias could become, in fact, an additional push toward a deeper crisis in the biggest republic of the North Caucasus, which today strongly resembles a military frontline. 
Dagestan’s Sheikh Said Efendi Chirkeiski was killed in the village of Chirkei on August 28. Several days prior to his killing, the leader of the militants, Doku Umarov, announced the new appointment of Emir Abu Muhammad as the chief commander of the Dagestani front of the armed of forces of the Caucasus Emirate (https://vdagestan.com/?p=6447). This decree, signed on August 6, became public knowledge only on August 25. Emir Abu Muhammad replaced Emir Salikh (a.k.a. Ibragimkhalil Daudov) who was killed on February 14. The present emir of Dagestan, Abu Muhammad (a.k.a. Rustam Aselrodov), is a 31-year-old ethnic Dargin from the Kadar zone in Dagestan. The Kadar zone was known as the center of Salafism in 1997 and was practically out of the Russian government’s control. The Russian state reinstalled control over the area after the special military operation of September 1999. So the new emir has certainly substantial experience in Salafism indoctrination given his personal background. Dagestani authorities suspect Emir Abu Muhammad of murdering Sheikh Efendi Chirkeiski and also hold him responsible for the bomb attack at Manezh Square in Moscow on December 31, 2010 (https://tden.ru/articles/show/23917). This type of publication shows that other notorious crimes will be attributed to the new emir, so that after his killing these crimes can be passed off as having been solved. It is unacceptable to take the government’s accusations seriously while the emir himself has not taken responsibility for them. Normally, militants do not shy away from taking responsibility for high profile crimes. Moreover, the insurgent leaders sometimes even take responsibility for something they did not do in order to reaffirm their authority among the armed resistance movement.
The armed resistance in Dagestan has become increasingly better organized and more numerous from year to year. For example, three years ago the militant sectors were generally made up of several districts, but now many districts comprise separate units within the insurgency. This can be observed in frequent reports about militant attacks in the Tsumada and Tsunta districts of Dagestan (https://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2012/09/11/93003.shtml), which are populated by the small Didoi ethnic group, numbering only 16,000 people. According to the insurgents’ map, the two districts comprise one, called Didoi.
The casualties from the armed conflict in Dagestan in August show that the republic lives in a never ending cycle of anxiety: there were 103 casualties, of which 70 were killed and 33 people injured. Out of the 27 police officers targeted in the attacks, four were killed and 23 were injured, while 21 suspected rebels were killed and three were injured. Twenty-two civilians were killed and seven more were wounded as a result of militant attacks (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/212194/).
Thus, Dagestan remains the deadliest territory in the North Caucasus. Two-thirds of the attacks by the North Caucasian armed opposition are launched against the Dagestani authorities and the republican government’s forces. Following the appointment of the new Dagestani rebel emir, who comes from an area that has been dominated by Salafis since 1997, violence, including attacks on the police forces and suicide bombings, will continue. Finally, the establishment of new structures like the personal guard proposed by President Magomedov to fight the insurgents will not change the situation but may further lead to the Balkanization of the North Caucasus whereby personal militias of respective nationalities are entrusted with defending ethnic territories under the guise of terrorism, whether they be Cossacks, Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, or Lezgins.