Russia’s ongoing intense military campaign in the North Caucasus does not seem to be confined to a single village, district or even republic. Given that the incessant special operations being conducted across the entire perimeter of the North Caucasus republics involve numerous units of the Russian army, security services and police, it is not hard to conclude that the go-ahead for the operations came directly from Moscow. Emboldened by the productive operations of April 2011, during which some high-profile leaders of jamaats – structural units of the armed resistance movement in the North Caucasus – were liquidated in Dagestan (http://nak.fsb.ru/) and Kabardino-Balkaria (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=4DBA54CEC545F), local Chechen security forces are now trying to present all the rebels they succeed in eliminating as no less than the personal representatives of Osama bin Laden in Chechnya. Such claims were joyously declared in the Chechen capital Grozny following the killings of Emir Mokhannad (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/184324/) and Sevdeta, a Turkish national (www.zarusskiy..org/islam/2011/05/04/emissar/), during special operations conducted in the mountains and foothills of the troubled republic.
This time around, news reports from the region are replete with details of actions undertaken by the Dagestani jamaat. According to the logic of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the death of the rebel leader should have resulted in the moral decay of the local jamaat there, but in reality the smaller constituent units have not even noticed the death of their leader – as in the popular Russian wartime song, “A squad did not notice the loss of a soldier…”
Disturbing reports about the special operations conducted against the militants simultaneously in several areas, in which both sides suffered heavy casualties, speak to the fact that the situation in the region is full of uncertainty.
The first battle occurred in the Kizlyar district of Dagestan, which is located in the northern part of the republic bordering Chechnya, the Stavropol region and the republic of Kalmykia. In the early hours of May 4, armed rebels opened fire on a police checkpoint at the entrance to the town of Kizlyar, killing a police officer. According to the Russian media, five civilians who for some inexplicable reason were standing at the checkpoint in the middle of the night were also injured (www.rosbalt.ru/kavkaz/2011/05/04/845482.html). This attack triggered a large-scale security sweep in the adjacent forested area near the village of Shoumyan, also in the Kizlyar district. According to a Russian account of the subsequent events, security units came across three insurgents and in the ensuing gunfire, which continued throughout the entire daylight hours, all of them were liquidated. During another special operation near the Kizlyar district village of Malaya Kozyrevka, a temporary militant hideout was discovered. In addition, Russian security forces (known in Russian as siloviki) engaged rebels in the vicinity of the village of Ukrainskaya, who fought back from a dugout. Around the same time, several rebels were held up in a private house in the Kizlyar district village of Chernyaevka. Eight of them were killed in the battle, which lasted almost the entire day. On the Russian side, a police officer was killed and three others wounded (http://newsru.com/russia/08may2011/kizrf.html). Thus, from May 4 through May 8, the entire Kizlyar district was engulfed in special operations by siloviki using military hardware, including helicopters.
On the evening of May 8, in the Khasavyurt district in northeastern Dagestan bordering Chechnya, Yakhya Magomedov, the editor of the Avar language version of the Dagestani newspaper Assalam, was murdered. His colleagues at Radio Liberty’s headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic, believe that the journalist may have been killed by mistake and the real target may well have been a relative of his who is a police officer (http://news.argumenti.ru/crime/2011/05/105990). While plausible, this author believes one should not exclude the possibility that Magomedov, the editor of a popular Muslim newspaper in Dagestan that has been published for many years, may have been targeted deliberately. It is highly unlikely that the armed resistance movement found the ideology put forth by the official newspaper as palatable.
On the night of May 8, unidentified men threw a hand grenade into the yard of the house of Lieutenant-Colonel Abdurashid Tibulatov, the police chief of Dagestan’s Kaytaksky district. Neither he nor members of his family were injured (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/185044/). Such acts are usually an act of intimidation – a warning that the next attack will be more destructive.
That same day, May 8, a special police officer who served in the local branch of Russia’s interior ministry was shot and killed outside his house in Shamkhal in the suburbs of the Dagestani capital Makhachkala (http://www.regnum.ru/look/ccc2c4/).
On the night of May 8-9, two unidentified armed men shot at a husband and wife in the village of Mamaaul in Dagestan’s Sergokalinsky district. According to the authorities, the couple’s lifestyle may have been the cause of the attack: they were engaged in fortune-telling and healing using non-traditional methods (www.riadagestan.ru/news, May 9). The militants view such practices as a grave sin against Islam and their actions against fortune-tellers have always been tough, even including physical elimination. These kinds of vigilante actions are by no means isolated incidents in the North Caucasus.
Meanwhile, Russia’s May 9 Victory Day celebration was itself overshadowed by new casualties. Law enforcement officials in the Dagestani town of Izberbash, located south of Makhachkala, ran into armed rebels as they carried out targeted inspections. Two police officers were killed and another wounded in the ensuing brief shootout, and the rebels disappeared from the scene unscathed (www.lenta.ru, May 9).
Thus, the ongoing conflict between the rebels and the Russian authorities in Dagestan resembles a low-grade war, in which not a single day goes by without casualties on both sides. Reports from the region testify to the fact that security operations are being conducted not against a handful of thugs, as is portrayed by the official Russian media and the government, and that what is taking place is a profound conflict between two completely opposed ideologies. Criminals acting against the law can ultimately be destroyed, no matter how many of them there are, but it is impossible to defeat an ideologically motivated group, no matter how small it is. Moscow clearly is not yet ready to admit that it is fighting against the rebels’ ideology, which is becoming increasingly popular among young people in the North Caucasus region.