Russian security officials stepped up their activities in the North Caucasus during the last two months of 2005. Officials in Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan proudly declared they had captured or killed scores of insurgent rebels in each republic, while Ingushetia struggled with cross-border raids from Chechnya.
After the October 13 rebel attack on the city of Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, the local branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and local police organized crime department initiated a large-scale search and arrest campaign. Reports put the number of detained suspects between several hundred and 2,000.
On November 20, local security officials declared that they had found a cache of weapons. Four days later they found another cache along with a hand-held, anti-aircraft missile and a driver’s license for Anzor Astemirov, commander of the Kabardino-Balkaria rebels (Interfax, November 20, 24, 2005). At the same time the press service of the republican Ministry of Interior Affairs issues information about new arrests of suspected rebels almost every day. Forty-three men have now been officially charged with taking part in the Nalchik raid.
In neighboring Dagestan, Abdulmanap Musaev, spokesman for the republic’s Ministry of the Internal Affairs, began December by announcing, “During the past week law enforcement agencies detained eight active members of illegal armed formations. In the last three months 85 gunmen were arrested in Dagestan” (regnum, December 6). Police also managed to find and kill several leaders of the Dagestani rebel group Jamaat Sharia (see EDM, November 11, 2005). Abdullah Magomedov, leader of the insurgency cell in Buinaksk, was also killed (Interfax, November 22, 2005). Last November insurgent attacks nearly ceased in the region. “Today one can say with more certainty that the situation in Makhachkala [the capital] and in even in the most remote areas had been stabilized,” Musaev declared in early December. “The work to eliminate the gunmen will continue until the plague of extremism is fully exterminated on Dagestani soil” (regnum, December 6).
Officials in Ingushetia, however, have no reason to boast. The republic’s local police force is near collapse. The Ingush rebels have killed many police and FSB officers, and recently they have adopted an even more effective tactic: night raids on the homes of police officers. The insurgents set fire to the houses or throw hand grenades through the windows. Terrorized policemen have fled their homes and are sending their families outside of Ingushetia. Clearly this strategy has reduced the effectiveness of police countermeasures against the insurgency. Ingush authorities are feverishly looking for ways to improve the situation. On December 5, Murat Zyazikov, president of Ingushetia, issued a decree to increase police wages by 50% (Ingushetia.ru, December 5). A massive search operation across all towns and settlements in the republic was launched on December 9, while Russian airplanes and heavy artillery bombed and shelled mountain forests in the south near the Chechen border where rebel bases might be located (Newsru, December 9; Russian-Chechen Information Agency).
None of these measures has had a noticeable effect; rebel attacks continue and the Ingush police increasingly seem paralyzed. Since the Ingush police do nothing against the insurgency, FSB special squads often enter the republic from Chechnya to conduct secret arrests. When a special FSB squad detained a suspect in the village of Verkhnie Achaluki during a night raid on December 9, they confirmed the irrelevance of the local law-enforcement system (Interfax, December 9). Police stopped the vehicles to inspect them, but the FSB officers began shooting and raced through the checkpoint towards neighboring Chechnya. The Ingush policemen sometimes try to interfere in FSB operations to demonstrate to the rebels that they are not involved in FSB activity and that the insurgents therefore should not blame them when people disappear in Ingushetia.
If there are no serious changes in the situation in the republic soon, the prospects for the rebels taking control of Ingushetia in the near future appear increasingly likely.
Nor is the situation in Dagestan as optimistic as security officials declare. Despite arrests and special operations rebel attacks have resumed, including: a freight train hit by a landmine near the town of Khasavyurt (December 8); an army patrol in Buinaksk was bombed by rebels (December 5); and a roadside bomb that killed two policemen and injured five in Khasavyurt (December 9). Rebel websites also reported raids by groups of Chechen insurgents in the areas of Dagestan adjacent to Chechnya.
Arrests in Kabardino-Balkaria might also have no significant effect on the local insurgency. Human rights organizations have received reports that detainees have been tortured, which is particularly disturbing as very often the only evidence “proving” an individual is involved with the insurgency is his confession made an interrogation.
It is also very suspicious that security officials report that they have arrested gunmen who were part of “reserve forces” during the raid on Nalchik. Many observers wonder if they located “reserves” because they could not find the real gunmen, who are hiding in the mountains or secretly moving around the region. On December 12, police and army units surrounded an apartment block in Nalchik following reports that rebel leader Anzor Astemirov was inside. Khachim Shogenov, the Kabardino-Balkaria minister of internal affairs, was personally in charge of the operation. However, Astemirov was not found (regnum, December 12). For the present, the only evidence police have against Astemirov is his driver’s license.