Against the backdrop of Moscow’s attempts to find new ways of changing the situation in the North Caucasus one can observe the militants becoming more active in the region. In previous years, militants’ activity slowed in the winter, but as of last year their strategy has changed. Today, the militants separate their activity into two periods: spring-summer and fall-winter. Thus, Russian interests are being undermined in the region all year round.
Last week was no exception to the rule. The Russian authorities reported a “total assault” on militants in Chechnya. Police operations were conducted with the use of defense technology and military aviation under the personal supervision of Russian State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov (www.dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 25). Delimkhanov is considered to be the person within Ramzan Kadyrov’s inner circle closest to the Chechen leader. Boastful statements by the Chechen authorities about six militants being killed on February 4 were superseded by reports from the vicinity of Chishki-Alkhazurovo, a settlement located on the border of Grozny and Urus-Martan regions (where the highlands of the republic begin), where a combined detachment of Ufa, Omsk and Armavir policemen was attacked by a group of 15 militants. Russia’s interior ministry confirmed that five servicemen from that combined detachment were killed and six wounded (www.svobodanews.ru, February 5). According to ITAR-TASS, five militants were killed (ITAR-TASS, February 5).
It should be noted that it is not quite clear which militants they are talking about: those killed on February 4 or on February 5? The authorities identified Ilman Estamirov among the dead and said he was the former emir of the settlement of Tevzin in Chechnya’s Vedeno region (Ekho Moskvy, February 11).
In his comments regarding the militants’ latest actions in Chechnya, Radio Free Europe commentator Andrei Babitsky believes that Ramzan Kadyrov’s “resource” of “overwhelming terror” against those who disagree with him has been completely exhausted. This also holds true with respect to Kadyrov’s struggle with the militants. Babitsky asserts that at this stage the militants are winning against the authorities (www.svobodanews.ru/content/feature/1949707.html).
It is worth noting that in order for Kadyrov to realize his idea of making Chechnya a “world-class tourist destination” he has to repress those who associate themselves with the resistance movement. The capture or death of the militant leader Doku Umarov would allow Kadyrov to present it as a crushing blow to the Chechen resistance. For this very reason, large-scale military and police operations have been rolled out across Chechnya (Chechen TV news, February 5).
Talks of calm in the region are further vitiated by the republics that neighbor Chechnya. In Dagestan on February 4 and 5, several high-ranking police officials were assassinated over the course of these two days. The day before, the chief of the municipal interior department, Ahmed Magomedov, was killed in a militant attack in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala. His driver and two bodyguards also lost their lives in the attack. The incident took place at about 10 p.m. on Akushinsky Street in Makhachkala. Eyewitnesses report that Magomedov’s Volga sedan was fired on from two automobiles as they drove alongside it. Early reports indicate that the assailants utilized an assault rifle and a machine gun (Ekho Moskvy, February 6).
The chief of the counter-terrorism department, Gapiz Isaev, was also killed on the same day. According to Russian news agencies, the attack took place in the vicinity of a collective farm market on Lermontov Street in the town of Izberbash. Isaev was driving his Niva automobile when unidentified individuals detonated an explosive device attached to the vehicle’s undercarriage. Experts estimate the explosive force to have been equivalent to 500 grams of TNT (www.mk.ru, February 5). As a result of such losses, the federal authorities decided to dispatch experienced criminal investigators (Regnum, February 6).
These two well-publicized murders completely discredited the PR campaign waged by Dagestan’s authorities concerning the elimination of the Chechen leader Doku Umarov’s famous comrade-in-arms, the Egyptian citizen Emir Seif al-Islam (Mohmad [sic] Mohammad Shabaan). He was killed on February 2 in the Botlikhsk district of Dagestan (Regnum, February 3). One can speculate that Seif al-Islam undertook his trip out of the need to appoint a new emir in Dagestan after the death of the leader of Dagestani militants, Emir al Bara (Umalat Magomedov) on December 31, 2009. Seif al-Islam has been responsible for choosing the emirs of the North Caucasian jamaats. In accordance with an already formed tradition, all foreign fighters killed among the militants are declared to have been al-Qaeda operatives in the North Caucasus. This case was not an exception to the rule: all Russian media outlets presented the news of Saif Islam’s death as the elimination of an al-Qaeda leader in the North Caucasus (www.ug.rbc.ru, February 3).
Moreover, he was declared to have been an assistant of Aslan Maskhadov, the former president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, in the pre-war years, which is entirely untrue. In the administration of Aslan Maskhadov, none of the foreign fighters was an assistant, or an adviser, or played any other such role. In any case, the death of Emir Seif al-Islam (Mohmad Mohammad Shabaan) will not result in any changes in the choice of a new leader of the Dagestani jamaat. It is almost certain that such a choice has already been made and will be reported upon in the near future by media agencies close to the militants. Since Seif al-Islam was moving through the Botlikhsk region, we can surmise that the new emir will come from one of the nearby areas. Thus, the leaders of the Gubden or Gimri jamaats are possible candidates for the position.
Against Ingushetia’s backdrop of daily shootings and attacks targeting the siloviki, one incident in particular should be highlighted. On February 6, the chief of the Sunzha headquarters of the republican interior ministry, M. Agiyev, was wounded by an explosion in the vicinity of the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya as he was approaching his house in his automobile (www.ingushetia.org, February 6). Thus, as this assassination illustrates, the situation in Ingushetia is only becoming worse and Kremlin efforts to rearrange the federal districts will in no way reverse this trend.