Dagestani Leadership Unable to Control Situation in Republic

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 211

Rebels from the Makhachkala sector of Dagestan’s Shariat Jamaat belatedly marked Russian Police Day, November 10, with a major attack in the republic’s capital, Makhachkala. The attack, which took place in downtown Makhachkala the following day, November 11, turned out to be one of the bloodiest this year. According to official reports, seven police officers were killed and seven people wounded, of which six were passers-by (www.riadagestan.ru/news/2010/11/11/105542/). Civilians were also injured apparently due to the fact that the attack took place in one of central Makhachkala’s busiest neighborhoods. Dagestan’s insurgents usually try to avoid casualties among the civilian population, targeting instead (almost exclusively) law enforcement agents (siloviki, as they are known in Russian), as well as those who support the Russian authorities’ campaigns against the Shariat Jamaat. Given the uncharacteristic “collateral” damage from this latest aggression, it might be concluded that the attack was a spontaneous decision. It is already known that the vehicle used by the insurgents had been taken away from a local policeman the previous day (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/176878/), which presumably enabled them to move around the city freely.

Moreover, there were two almost simultaneous attacks. The first one took place on Magomed Gadzhiev Street, where militants fired on two patrol cars belonging to a special police unit. In the second incident, traffic police officers came under attack on Sovietskaya Street, after which the militants were unable to drive away and caught fire in a shootout with police, resulting in the death of all four involved. The nightmare for the local police did not end there. Literally an hour after the seven police officers were killed, two powerful explosions rocked virtually the same central district of Makhachkala concurrently on Yaragsky and Gadzheiev Streets. Reportedly, at least three people were affected by one of the bombings, but there is no information about the victims of the second one. The Dagestani branch of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed that they defused a car that contained explosives with the force of three kilograms of TNT.

Following this latest series of armed insurgent attacks and bombings, the Russian government deployed interior ministry troops and armored military equipment to Makhachkala to guard government buildings in the center of the city. News agencies supporting the North Caucasus insurgents have reported additional details of the attacks. According to Kavkaz Center, there were a total of six clashes with security forces in the Dagestan capital, while the Russian authorities reported that only two took place (http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2010/11/12/76458.shtml). Whatever the numbers, a total of eleven people were killed, including seven police officers and four rebels, and ten were wounded –a police officer, six pedestrians and three others, whose identity remains unknown. All of this happened during the absence of Dagestan’s president, Magomedsalam Magomedov, who happened to be making his pilgrimage to Mecca for the Hajj. As has become an established tradition for leaders of the Muslim faith in Russia, after they are appointed to high-level government positions, these erstwhile communists, who had rejected religion in the previous epoch, make the hajj to Saudi Arabia. Among the leaders of the North Caucasus, this is aimed at ingratiating themselves with the local population of the region, which is becoming more and more Muslim with each year, both in numbers and degree. Dagestani news agencies reported on a telephone conversation between the Dagestani leader and his interior minister, Abdurashid Magomedov, who informed his boss of the militant actions in the Dagestani capital (www.riadagestan.ru/print.php?new=105608&page_index=).

There must have been a lot of desperation in that conversation. The fact is that a few days earlier, the Dagestani leadership had been subjected to severe criticism by President Dmitry Medvedev. Despite the reprimand and warning, the attacks in Makhachkala meant that Magomedov had once again failed the Russian president, who was about to attend the G20 summit in Seoul and obviously wanted to be representing a stable and flourishing country. The disturbing reports carried by news agencies from Dagestan would hardly have made Medvedev feel comfortable. It can be presumed that the competence and leadership skills of Dagestan’s current leader will come under serious question. This does not mean that he will be removed from his post in the immediate future. Rather, a number of persons loyal to the Kremlin might be implanted in his team, and those people would hardly be allies of the Dagestani leader.

But the reports of shootings, attacks and bombings have become a daily occurrence in Dagestan. For instance, the day before the Makhachkala incidents, unidentified armed men fired on a police unit in Dagestan’s Kizlyar district, killing a police officer and wounding a local resident and four to five police officers (http://north-osetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/176770/). On November 12, a special armored unit was once again deployed in central Makhachkala and although it was removed by evening, no explanation was offered to the media (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/176923/). According to the republican interior ministry, 104 agents of the siloviki were killed in Dagestan between January and September 2010, of which 82 were from the local police, 10 from the FSB and 12 from the Russian interior ministry troops and army. The insurgents lost 123 men in the same period (www.news.mail.ru/inregions/caucasus/5/4759513/).

Meanwhile, it was reported that the local interior ministry completed the first stage of forming a special battalion composed of Dagestani residents along the lines of the armed formations in neighboring Chechnya. According to Interfax, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Rogozhkin, who is commander of the ministry’s internal troops, has already recruited 300 people. The 700-man-strong battalion will be staffed primarily by Dagestanis, and the local authorities insist the new formation will operate more effectively. Their expectations are difficult to understand, however, given that the local police force is also composed of local residents.