Endless Special Forces Operations Continue in the North Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 116

Russian special forces (Source: RIA Novosti)

The recent murder in broad daylight of the former commander of the 160th guard tank regiment in Chechnya, Yuri Budanov, in downtown Moscow once again returned the topic of Chechnya to the minds of the Russian general public. Well before the official police explanations, the nationalist forces in Russian society began accusing the Chechens of Budanov’s death, speculating that this may have been an act of vengeance (vendetta, blood feud) because of Budanov’s crime in Chechnya. When in Chechnya, Yuri Budanov abducted, raped, and then killed an 18-year-old Chechen woman named Elza Kungaev (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/russian/russia/newsid_3116000/3116640.stm).  

In the view of Russian authorities, Yuri Budanov’s arrest was supposed to weaken the attacks of human rights advocates against the army, police and FSB of the Russian Federation for their human rights abuses during the active military operations in Chechnya since 1999. According to Aleksei Vaschenko, an independent Russian expert on the North Caucasus, such a murder is logical in view of the complete misunderstanding of the situation in the North Caucasus by Russian authorities and, first and foremost, by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev (www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/24230850.html).

In Vaschenko’s opinion and that of other experts, Vladimir Putin’s personal support for Ramzan Kadyrov’s actions places this region outside the jurisdiction of Russian laws. That being said, this murder also serves as a reminder to all those who fought in Chechnya, and who were complicit in crimes against the Chechens, that Yuri Budanov’s fate may befall each one of them as well. Russian nationalists in turn will attempt to portray Budanov as a martyr, which will certainly create the fear of possible retaliatory attacks by skinheads against non-Russians living in Moscow.

It is in fact not as calm and quiet in this republic as Moscow would like it to be. If one is to believe the sources of the Chechen resistance movement (which are not confirmed by independent sources), on Friday, June 10, mujahidin ambushed the soldiers of the former “Vostok” battalion in a militant sabotage attack close to the Borzoi village in the Shatoi district (the 8th guard motorized infantry brigade and the frontier post of the Russian FSB are located on the outskirts of this village). Seven “Vostok” battalion members were killed and at least 15 were heavily wounded during the attack (http://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2011/06/11/82433.shtml). If these facts are confirmed (Kavkaztsentr agency provides information based on the accounts of the Borzoi village residents), this operation will surely be one of the largest operations by the insurgents in the last several years.

Similar attacks have taken place in Kabardino-Balkaria as well, where authorities have already started making statements about the decreased activity of militants due to the elimination of almost all the major figures in the Kabardino-Balkaria djamaat (http://kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/184579/). For instance, on June 9, the deputy commander of the special purpose police unit, Col. Zamir Dikinov, was killed during a special forces raid conducted to arrest the armed resistance members operating in Kabardino-Balkaria (http://sk-news.ru/news/accident/9915/). Yet, a day later on June 10, six suspected militants reportedly were killed during special forces raids in the Elbrus district (http://kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/187048/). They were spotted after an attack on а convoy operated by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, in which seven members of the special forces were wounded and one policeman had been killed. No sooner did the Minister of Internal Affairs, Rashid Nurgaliev, hold a joint meeting in Nalchik city with the heads of the General Directorate of the Ministry of International Affairs for the North-Caucasus Federal District and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, as another notorious murder immediately took place in the republic.

Khasan Bogatyrev, Deputy Chief of the Republican Anti-Extremism Center, was shot dead in the Baksan district of Kabardino-Balkaria. He was assassinated by two unidentified individuals on the morning of June 12, in the city of Baksan. The authorities tried to utilize all available resources to detain the suspects after this attack, including the use of aerial reconnaissance aircraft to locate the suspects in the forested areas. (www.svobodanews.ru/archive/ru_news_zone/20110612/17/17.html?id=24232551).

It should be pointed out that an incessant anti-terrorist operation to neutralize the members of the armed resistance has been carried out in the mountainous parts of Kabardino-Balkaria since February, 2011.  Forces from other regions of the Russian Federation had been redeployed there for this purpose as well. (http://sk-news.ru/news/accident/9910/). Unsurprisingly, the Russian Minster of Internal Affairs was forced to acknowledge in Nalchik that the armed resistance still had the ability to strike hard against the authorities, despite the death of their leaders.  According to the Russian Minister: “Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan are the regions with the highest terrorist activity, with 34 terrorist crimes taking place since the beginning of this year. This constituted 84.8 percent of all raids conducted by the underground resistance in the country.”  At the meeting in Nalchik, the Minister also disclosed the number of casualties in the North Caucasus since the start of the year, noting that according to Russian official sources, 193 terrorists were neutralized in the first five months in 2011, while law enforcement and federal military forces had experienced over 253 casualties, of which 74 military personnel were killed and 179 were wounded. Approximately 95 civilians were injured, of which 39 had died www.regnum.ru/news/polit/1414862.html#ixzz1P56Q2FpE).

The Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev was right when he gave the laurels of superiority to the militants in Dagestan. Presidential Envoy to the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin, agrees with him as well (http://kavkasia.net/Russia/2011/1307939064.php). According to Khloponin, Dagestan has become home to entire settlements “inhabited by members of radical Islam.” Khlopinin’s statement demonstrates the extent to which he is far removed from the actual situation on the ground. The murder of the Head of the Theology and International Affairs Institute, Maksud Sadikov, on June 7 this year is one of the notorious events of the past days that is worth mentioning.  The murder can be easily equated to similar murders of other religious leaders, who, according to militants, collaborate closely with authorities to lead a struggle against Salafism.

Meanwhile, it should also be noted in recent days the President of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, has continued to deny persistent rumors about the closing of the Russian military base in Botlikh, asserting that the withdrawal of Russian military equipment from the base was part of a planned predisposition (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/187123/). This is hard to believe. At the very least, right after the confirmations of the village residents themselves, the head of the Botlikh village administration  admitted the existence of an order to transfer military residential property to the village council, which complicated the situation further.

Thus, in light of these developments it is hard not to agree with Nurgaliev that the situation in the North Caucasus remains quite difficult. Despite the killing of up to two hundred militants in the first five months in 2011, militant activity is not only unabated, but, instead, is actually increasing compared to the previous year. Moreover, this militant activity is occurring primarily because of the situation in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria, and only then because of Chechnya and Ingushetia.