Events in Dagestan Force the Kremlin to Become More Active

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 20

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Dagestan on October 2 ( While there, Medvedev stated that Moscow was prepared to inject additional cash into the North Caucasus in order to improve the socio-economic situation in the region. The prime minister’s choice of which North Caucasian republic to visit was no accident: it was meant to demonstrate support for the head of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov.

On October 15, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev visited three republics of the North Caucasus in one day—Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. The Russian military base at Khankala in Chechnya, where the joint military command for the counter-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus Federal District is located, was the first stop on Kolokoltsev’s visit. He held a meeting with the police and military commanders in the region. During his stop in Dagestan, Kolokoltsev visited the Interior Ministry troops’ 134th regiment (, familiarized himself with the situation on the ground and heard proposals on how to improve their counter terrorism efforts.

Meanwhile, the situation in Dagestan did not escape the attention of Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Alexander Khloponin, as he unconvincingly tried to reassure the public that the situation in the North Caucasus was calmer than it generally thought ( For instance, commenting on reports of Russian military participation in special operations against the militants, Khloponin frantically denied them, saying they were the result of confusion that was caused by Russian military exercises taking place in the Caucasus ( However, Khloponin apparently missed President Vladimir Putin’s comments on the issue: at a meeting on the government’s counter-terrorism activities on October 16, Putin unequivocally confirmed the participation of military forces in special operations in the North Caucasus, saying it “was needed in order for officers and the military personnel to feel the presence of their colleagues from various agencies and ministries” (

The visits to the North Caucasus by Prime Minister Medvedev and Interior Minister Kolokoltsev were apparently made in preparation for the October 16 government meeting in Moscow at which President Putin presided. At the meeting, Putin stated that over the last several months, “479 bandits were arrested during special operations in the region, 313 terrorists who refused to lay down their weapons were destroyed in battle, including 43 of their leaders.” At this meeting, the Russian president announced for the first time that the military exercises Kavkaz 2012 were held in preparation for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. “In the next few years in Russia, a range of high profile political and sporting events will be held and it is a matter of honor for the law enforcement agencies (and) special services to do everything they can to ensure that these events are held in a normal, business-like, festive atmosphere, so that nothing would overshadow these events,” Putin said (

However, the situation in Dagestan undermines the victorious claims made by the Kremlin’s officials. It is not that there has been an unexpected rise in armed activity in Dagestan, as the authorities would like to portray it. The rise in the number of armed attacks in Dagestan started several years ago, but the situation in the republic remained relatively unnoticed for a while, as Moscow paid more attention to the situation in Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. According to the chairman of the Memorial human rights center, Alexander Cherkasov, during the last three years, the activities of the armed resistance in Dagestan has been steadily rising. In 2010¬–2011, half of all casualties among government forces took place in Dagestan ( So the authorities in Moscow have finally confirmed what has long been an obvious fact for the residents of the North Caucasus.

In March, after it became clear that the number of government troops in Dagestan would not be sufficient to control the situation in the republic, military units operating in Chechnya (approximately 25,000 men) were relocated to Dagestan ( Local residents are alarmed by the involvement of Russian military forces in counterterrorist activities. According to independent sources, over the past several months, the mountainous areas of Dagestan, such as the Untsukul and Tsumada districts, have been bombed by military jets (

It can be asserted that Salafism in Dagestan has developed in two distinct directions simultaneously. There were those who engaged in armed resistance and those who tried to coexist peacefully with the Sufis. The problem with peaceful coexistence was that the Salafis were considered a priori hostile to the government that had essentially outlawed them. It must be noted that in both capacities the Salafis achieved remarkable success. In today’s Dagestan, one need not spend a lot of time looking for a Salafi-populated village as they can be found everywhere ( Indeed, it can be said that it is fashionable to be a Salafi. Young people and intellectuals sympathize with them because both the armed and peaceful Salafis oppose the authorities. The Salafis put themselves outside the state system on which the governments in Russia and the North Caucasian republics in particular hinge.

It can be concluded from all this that the Russian government is indicating its willingness to stabilize the level of violence in the North Caucasus at its present level. So the federal government has no other program of action for the region other than the one it had 13 years ago, when it launched counter-terrorism operations against the rebels and offered them nothing other than imprisonment. With such an approach, the practice of holding meetings on fighting terrorism will continue well into the future. Moscow disregards human losses, and this means that the crisis in the North Caucasus and the spread of Salafism across Russia will continue at a very rapid pace.