Dagestan’s New Leaders Faces an Upsurge in Insurgent Activities

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 3

While the new president of Dagestan, Ramazan Abdulatipov, is busy looking for an “honest minister of education” (www.yuga.ru/news/285954/), the republic appears to have ignored the change in the leadership. In fact, the people who were dismissed by the previous president, Magomedsalam Magomedov, have already returned to positions of power (www.gazeta.ru/politics/2013/01/30_a_4947013.shtml). Skeptical remarks made by one of Dagestan’s most influential Dargin politicians, Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, about Abdulatipov provide little reassurance that the Kremlin’s new appointee is being received well in the republic (www.chernovik.net/content/respublika/esli-ya-skazal-eto-zhelezno).

The acting Dagestani president returned the favor, stating that the republic “was sliding into feudalism” in the recent past (www.mk.ru/politics/article/2013/02/01/806623-abdulatipovu-dostalsya-feodalizm.html). Against the backdrop of indignation among ethnic Kumyks—who lost the position of republican prime minister, which had been reserved for them for a long time—even President Vladimir Putin was forced to note that Abdulatipov should select his cadres in an ethnically balanced way (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219521/). Moscow would like to avoid adding an ethnic conflict deriving from a fight over positions in the Dagestani government to the existing conflict with the jihadist insurgency.

During the Soviet period, a republican head in the North Caucasus had to prove his professional competency through increasing the output of grain from arable land. Today, instead of increasing the agricultural output, the leader of a republic is expected to show his adeptness by effectively fighting the North Caucasian jihadist armed resistance. However, it is hard to expect much progress from the republican government, given that local police forces react to developments on the ground rather than act preemptively. As the authorities try to dissuade the rebels from violence by putting pressure on their relatives, people in the republic are becoming even more frustrated with the law enforcement agencies. On February 2, a resident of Makhachkala, Rakiyat Magomedova, asked human rights activists for protection because she was afraid to stay at her home at night, fearing provocations by the police. Magomedova’s husband, Alfred Zagirov, was gunned down along with her brother Artur Magomedov in a special operation last October 19 as they were returning home. Magomedova wears Islamic dress. All these circumstances taken together suggest she may indeed be the target of hostile action by the police (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219564/). As the insurgents stepped up their activities against law enforcement personnel, the latter increased pressure on relatives of the rebels.

Yet, despite a continual inflow of police and security forces from all over Russia into Dagestan (http://susanin.udm.ru/news/2013/02/02/397491), the jihadists are conducting operations across the republic. On the night of February 1, a police officer’s car was blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Derbent (www.riadagestan.ru/news/2013/2/1/150179/). The next day, another IED exploded as a border guard exited a restaurant and was approaching his car (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219539/).

On the evening of February 1, unidentified armed people attacked a car near a gas station on the Kavkaz federal highway. When the attackers found out that the driver of the car was a Chechen police officer from the village of Shelkovskaya, they snatched him along with his car (www.riadagestan.ru/news/2013/2/1/150230/). The 31-year-old Chechen police officer was found dead the following day on the outskirts of the village of Bammatyurt in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district.

In the village of Gurik in Dagestan’s Tabasaran district, a 36-year-old member of an armed group in southern Dagestan who was on the federal wanted list managed to escape arrest. After the police tried to seal off the house where he was holed up, the militant reportedly fired shots at the officers and ran away (http://chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/neizvestnye-osbtrelyali-prilavki-v-magazine-v-hasavyurte).

On February 2, two unidentified assailants fired shots at a grocery store in the settlement of Severny in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district and fled (http://chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/neizvestnye-osbtrelyali-prilavki-v-magazine-v-hasavyurte). Such attacks attract little public attention these days, although everybody understands they are staged by religious radicals who oppose alcohol sales in the republic.

In the meantime, the armed opposition’s websites have been reporting attacks in Dagestan that the Russian mainstream media have not reported. Indeed, opposition sources revealed that two powerful explosions were heard within five minutes of one another in the city of Khasavyurt on the night of February 2. No other details were provided. In the morning of February 3, additional police checkpoints were set up in the city, while military vehicles appeared on the city’s outskirts (http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/02/02/95949.shtml).

Even though there are multiple problems in Dagestan, the insurgency is the most important and painful one for the authorities. However, the new head of the republic, Ramazan Abdulatipov, has not revealed his attitude toward this issue yet. This means that in the near future it will become clear what the new government strategy in this field is. The new measures, however, do not imply that 2013 will become a turning point for Moscow or that the militants will decrease their activities in Dagestan. It is more likely that the jihadists will gain more power through recruiting young people who see their fight not so much as against the leadership of Dagestan, as against the actions of Moscow in the republic.