Influential NGO Issues Report on Dagestan

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 22

On June 3, the International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report on the situation in Dagestan, which concludes that an unstable economic situation and corruption are the main reasons for the upsurge in terrorism in the republic.

The report’s executive summary states that while Dagestan “has avoided large-scale violence despite its proximity to Chechnya,” the republic is now “suffering from escalating street warfare.” The ICG estimates that several hundred local and federal security forces, administrators, politicians, ministers and journalists have been killed in Dagestan since 2003, with the militant Islamist group Sharia Jamaat responsible for much of the violence. “Some of its leaders fought in Chechnya, but its extremist propaganda is also attracting unemployed Dagestani youth,” the ICG says of the Sharia Jamaat. “This home-grown extremism, espousing jihadi theology and employing terrorist methods, is a new phenomenon. Police efforts to end the street war have been ineffective and in some instances counter-productive. While supporting loyal local elites, Moscow can help halt the increase in violence if it implements an efficient anti-corruption policy and reintegrates youth into the economic and political system.”

According to the ICG report, “street warfare” has increased in Dagestan since 2003 and “by far surpassed” inter-ethnic conflict over land, resources and employment as the main source of violence in the republic. “In response, the republic’s security forces, often with federal reinforcements, are conducting special operations against Islamic militants which result in yet more bloodshed,” the report states. “The cycle of attacks and reprisals has created a spiral of violence, which has grown distinctively worse in the past year.” As a result, the Sharia Jamaat “has little difficulty recruiting young Dagestanis who are unemployed, traumatized by cruelty endured in jail and motivated by propaganda promoting jihad and armed resistance,” the ICG report states. “Corruption and nepotism exclude many from the economy, feed their grievances and drive them into radical Islamist movements. Corruption is widespread in many regions of the former Soviet Union, but in Dagestan the problem is more severe and coupled with a flourishing black market and clan-based economic system.”

The ICG report emphasizes that violence in Dagestan today is caused mainly by “jihadi fighters,” not inter-ethnic tensions. “Although competition for land and political appointments often follows ethnic lines, the republic’s ethnic complexity has neutralized tensions by encouraging allegiances between groups and has prevented the emergence of a dominant one.” The report warns that conflict between Avars and Dargins remains a possibility, especially after Mukhu Aliev, an Avar, became president, but also notes that electoral reforms in 2006 sought to “de-ethnicize” politics by ending ethnic electoral districts and introducing a general voting list. These reforms were put to the test in the republic’s parliamentary elections in March 2007 and apparently succeeded, given that the elections were less an “inter-ethnic competition” then a “personal duel” for political and economic power between Aliev and Said Amirov, a Dargin.

The ICG’s full report on Dagestan can be found at: http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/europe/caucasus/192_russia_s_dagestan_conflict_causes.pdf.

The ICG’s report on Dagestan was presented at the Regnum news agency’s press center in Moscow on June 3. The news agency quoted Alain Délétroz, ICG vice president (Europe), as saying that large-scale warfare is unlikely to break out in Dagestan. “Nevertheless, the federal authorities need to undertake a serious anti-corruption effort and engage with youth to break the cycle of attacks and reprisals between security forces and militants, which has grown distinctly worse in the past year,” Délétroz said.

Kavkazky Uzel on May 27 quoted Moscow Helsinki Group chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseyeva as saying: “What went on in Chechnya during the war is what is actually going on in Ingushetia and Dagestan now in relation to innocent civilians. There is no war, but innocent civilians are being kidnapped, murdered [and] robbed.” The website quoted Novaya Gazeta military correspondent Vyacheslav Izmailov as saying that Dagestan is the most dangerous place in Russia for ordinary citizens and journalists alike. Those fighting for power in Dagestan, he said, are creating a tense situation in the republic. “Because in practically whatever district you take, officials are ordering killers against each other,” Kavkazky Uzel quoted Izmailov as saying. “And it is very dangerous for journalists in those conditions to speak the truth.”

Meanwhile, Kavkazky Uzel reported on June 4 that Ilyas Sharipov, a 29-year-old inhabitant of the village of Balakhani in Dagestan’s Untsukulsky district who was detained in the city of Khasavyurt on May 1 and whose relatives and lawyer were unable to determine his whereabouts, is in fact incarcerated in Khasavyurt’s remand prison. A source in Dagestan’s Interior Ministry said Sharipov is suspected of membership in “underground groups” operating on the outskirts of Balakhani and in crimes committed in the district, including a May 8 attack on police personnel in which no one was hurt. According to Sharipov’s lawyer, Nutsalai Magomadov, after Sharipov was detained in Khasavyurt on May 1, he was sent to the city of Buinaksk, where he was declared a suspect in kidnapping, illegal weapons possession and banditry, and was then sent to the republic’s capital, Makhachkala, where members of the republic’s anti-organized crime directorate (UBOP) alleged that his car had been used in the murder of police officers. The lawyer said that Sharipov was beaten and tortured while in custody and told he would be taken to Khankala, the Russian military base outside the Chechen capital Grozny, if he did not confess to the crimes.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, another suspected member of the underground group that Ilyas Sharipov allegedly belonged to was seized by people in masks on May 1 and found in a Makhachkala jail only on May 9. The website quoted the head of the press service of Dagestan’s Interior Ministry, Mark Tolchinsky, as saying that the six men who made up the group were jailed on suspicion of preparing a series of terrorist acts timed to coincide with Russia’s May holidays.