Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 162

Contrary to information in the Russian mass media, Russian troops have been unable to retake the Dagestani towns of Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi from armed Islamists (see the Monitor, September 2). By the evening of September 2, Russian troops had managed to occupy only the outskirts of Karamakhi; Chabanmakhi remains completely under the control of the rebel fighters, who have been putting up fierce resistance to the Russian forces, who had to fight for each house in Karamakhi. The Islamists had long been prepared for an inevitable armed conflict with the authorities. It is notable, that as far back as a year ago, Khalif Ataev, one of the leaders of the local Wahabbis, told Monitor’s correspondent that “sooner or later the local authorities will want to destroy true Muslims, and thus we are forced to prepare to defend ourselves.” Today the positions of the Islamists are divided into echelons, their firing positions are planked with reinforced concrete and hiding places stocked with food and weapons have been prepared in woods and glens surrounded by rugged terrain (NTV, Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 2).

September 2 marked one month from the moment that the Dagestani Islamists, with help from Chechen rebel field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab tried to seize control of a number of villages in Dagestan’s mountainous region. Vladimir Kolesnikov, Russia’s deputy interior minister, said on September 2 that during the month of warfare with the Islamists twenty-five Interior Ministry personnel had been killed, eleven of them Dagestanis. As Nezavisimaya gazeta noted, Russia’s power structures and the Dagestani authorities have one serious advantage–the understanding and approval of the Dagestani populace. It is highly probable, however, that this support will evaporate, especially if, as in the Chechen campaign, the federal forces kill not only the rebel fighters, but also civilians (the Islamists have their wives and children with them).

It should also be noted that, unlike in Botlikhsk region, where the Islamists began the war, their counterparts in Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi apparently did not take aggressive actions against official Makhachkala, but the federal forces nonetheless began military actions. (Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the Kremlin could not tolerate the fact that the region had been out of federal control for a year.) Some opposition to this has been voiced in Dagestan: The republic’s Vice Prime Minister Gadzhi Makhashev recently said that the inhabitants of Karamakhi are brothers, not aggressors, and that they should not be attacked (NTV, September 1; Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 2).

[The Monitor continues the series of profiles of the candidates in Ukraine’s presidential election. See the profiles in the Monitor, July 13, 20, August 6, 31, September 1.]