Failure to Pacify Dagestan Results in Government’s Growing Reliance on Crude Force

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 125

Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev (Source: RIA Novosti)

On June 27, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev declared an unprecedented boost to Dagestan’s police forces. On a brief visit to Makhachkala, Nurgaliev announced the creation of the 7,000-man joint police, military and security services group to fight the rebels in the republic. The largest part of the manpower for the new group, 5,500 people, is expected to come from the Dagestani police forces. The Russian interior ministry will supply nearly 900 people, including 500 from the ministry’s Special Forces and 150 from the road police and the riot police (, June 27).

Moscow may be reacting to the deteriorating security situation in Dagestan in recent months. But the move also may be an attempt to curb the spread of Islam and a corresponding decline of the Russian-backed secular authority in the republic, where Islamic traditions run deep. While the formation of an impressive police group to fight the rebels might appear to be a stark warning to the powerbase of the Dagestani insurgency, it is also likely to trigger more violence and further increase support for the rebels. commentator Andrei Kuznetsov noted that since the beginning of 2011 neither Prime Minister Vladimir Putin nor President Dmitry Medvedev has said anything significant about Dagestan. “This does not mean that the leaders of the country deem the situation in the region normal,” Kuznetsov said, adding “Rather, this testifies to the absence of new ideas for resolving the problem in both the Kremlin and the government” (, June 27).

But apart from being a sign of some desperation on the Russian government’s part, the focus on an increased military and police presence in Dagestan reflects the tried-and-true methods of the Russian government in North Caucasus. Moscow has enough military clout to suppress any open uprising in Dagestan, especially in the absence of serious domestic and international criticism, but it has in the recent past continually failed at social engineering and fine-tuning its relations with the North Caucasus. So predictably, Moscow falls back on something that the government reasons it is good at – a demonstration of military prowess. However, if Moscow disconnects with a sufficiently large number of Dagestanis, which appears to be the current tendency, more of them could turn against Moscow’s rule in the region. Dagestan is the largest of the North Caucasian republics, with a fast growing population of about 3 million and very complex terrain.
According to Dagestani Interior Minister Abdurashid Magomedov, the rate of serious crimes has increased by 21 percent in Dagestan since the beginning of 2011 (, June 27). But Dagestan stands out especially clear when compared to the other volatile territories in the North Caucasus. In the first six months of 2011, government forces launched 53 special operations against the rebels in the North Caucasus, seven of which took place in Chechnya, six in Kabardino-Balkaria, four in Ingushetia and 36 in Dagestan. During the same period, 206 rebels were killed across the North Caucasus and 225 were captured, according to official sources. Out of these numbers for the North Caucasus as a whole, about half – 100 rebels – were killed and 118 captured in Dagestan while only two rebels reportedly surrendered in the republic. Among the government forces, 40 have been killed and 76 injured in Dagestan so far in 2011 (, June 27). The number of “captured insurgents” is likely to include all the people arrested on suspicion of belonging to the North Caucasus armed underground and may not necessarily reflect the real number of captured rebels.

With all the superiority of the government forces, they still did not avoid a major setback on June 21 that may have prompted Moscow to increase its military and police forces in Dagestan. Security services surrounded a group of 10-30 militants in the vicinity of Kizlyar in northern Dagestan. The government forces, using artillery, helicopters, armed vehicles and infrared devices, were unable either to kill or capture the militants. On June 22, the besieged group of rebels escaped despite all the precautions taken by the security services. Thirteen people from FSB and the interior ministry were reportedly killed and 19 wounded in the operation, but officially the government admitted only 18 casualties – five dead and 13 wounded. Government sources reported that five rebels were killed, but only two dead among the rebels were later confirmed (, June 24).

In November 2010, the Dagestani government set up an adaptation commission for militants who renounce violence and surrender. The government invited some controversial figures, such as Abas Kebedov, brother of the Dagestani Wahhabi ideologue Bagaudin Magomedov, to convince the insurgents to surrender. However, the latest data and government moves suggest the pacification attempt did not work. Its failure was probably caused by the fact that instead of a dialogue or a path to participation in the republic’s politics, the government offered the insurgents the chance to surrender. Normally, in order to resolve a conflict peacefully, both sides should do something to reach an agreement. In Dagestan, only the militants were expected to do their part, while the government did not undertake any reforms on its side.

On June 25, the first congress of religious leaders of the North Caucasus took place in Makhachkala. The government-sponsored Muslim leaders tried to come up with solutions to convince radicalized Muslim youth to renounce violence. Speaking of cooperation between the Dagestani Islamic leaders and the authorities, the Dagestani minister responsible for religious affairs, Bekmurza Bekmurzaev, said that the republic’s religious leaders received $2 million from the government. According to Bekmurzaev, the Islamic leaders subsequently wrote a special fatwa – a legal ruling in Islam – stating that only those who die defending the Russian constitution and  the country’s laws, who fight to preserve the territorial integrity of Russia and Dagestan, are the “real shahids” (or martyrs) predestined for paradise (, June 25). As long as the government in Dagestan tries to trick and force its armed opponents into submission, there is little chance for peace in this volatile republic.