Is Kabardino-Balkaria Following the Path of Dagestan?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 9

The tragedy in Boston reminded the world about the simmering conflict in the North Caucasus, which has not been resolved because the West largely ignored the region. The outside world pretended Russia’s claims that the North Caucasus had turned almost into a paradise that could be trusted. In order to make sure this distorted view of the situation was accepted by the outside world, Moscow kicked international organizations out of the region so that they could not see what was occurring there (www.ng.ru/politics/2012-10-10/100_unicef.html). Vladimir Putin even decided to hold the Winter Olympics in the subtropical part of the Caucasus in Sochi in 2014.

Over the years, The Jamestown Foundation has insistently tried to make the point that the situation in the North Caucasus poses a security hazard and should be watched closely. The analysis of the Jamestown Foundation was based on Russia’s own media. No other research and analysis organization in the world has been as consistent with its view of this region as Jamestown. By illuminating different dimensions of the situation in the North Caucasus, Jamestown has tried to show that the conflict has become much more complex and multi-dimensional and that the threat was only increasing from year to year. The attempts by some experts to simplify everything and connect the events in the North Caucasus to al-Qaeda have been misleading. The al-Qaeda explanation is the trump card that poorly informed regional experts often resort to in an effort to explain the complexities of the region.

In the wake of the crime in Boston, many people have discovered that apart from Chechnya there is also the previously unknown Dagestan. But the conflict is not limited even to just these two regions. The conflict in the North Caucasus includes tiny Ingushetia, diverse Kabardino-Balkaria and, still in a state of suspended animation, Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Also, how the Muslims of North Ossetia behave depends on how they are treated, given the fact that Ossetian youth are increasingly turning to Islam. All in all, one sees a region that slipped out of Russian control in 1991. Moscow’s attempts to resolve the separatist issues in 1994–1996 and 1999 led to a situation in which the independence movement was replaced by the movement for building an Islamic state in the region.

Kabardino-Balkaria is one of the problem areas of the North Caucasus, and the events of the last few days of April indicate that the situation in the republic remains tense. No rosy official reports can conceal the tensions in society or existence of an armed underground movement.

On April 27, police found a so-called shahid (martyr’s) belt in the home of a 23-year-old female resident of Chegem in Kabardino-Balkaria. The woman had been on the Russian federal list of missing persons. The shahid belt was made of an army sword belt with a 0.2-kilogram TNT explosive device attached to it with tape. The improvised explosive device (IED) was furnished with bolts and nuts as shrapnel, an electric detonator, a toggle switch and a 9-volt battery (www.ntv.ru/novosti/573498). It was unclear how many belts there were and where the owner of the belt was. Strangely, important evidence like this is invariably destroyed by investigators, and in this case, as well, police destroyed the belt in a controlled explosion. Most of the time, this raises questions about the veracity of investigators’ claims about the existence of the shahid belts.

The next day, April 28, unknown assailants fired on a unit of special forces in a forest near the village Zhankhoteko in Kabardino-Balaria’s Baksan district. No one was reported hurt among the servicemen and the attackers fled the scene without suffering any casualties (http://kavkasia.net/Russia/2013/1367199774.php).

In the early hours of April 30, Federal Security Service (FSB) officers tried to stop a car on the highway between Khasanya and Gerpegezh to check the documents of those inside. The driver opened fire at the servicemen and was killed by return fire. An IED exploded in the suspect’s car during the gun battle. The slain driver turned out to have been involved in an earlier attack on law enforcement personnel (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/kab-balk/1654821.html). Of course, it is unlikely that the FSB came out at 6 a.m. to check the documents of random passers-by. Most likely, the officers knew who was driving their way and either tried to arrest him or fired at his car, destroying it and then portraying the incident as the detonation of an IED that was inside the suspect’s car.

An admission made by the Kabardino-Balkarian Deputy Interior Minister Kazbek Tatuev confirmed that the situation in the republic is developing according to a scenario dreaded by Russia. At a press conference on April 25, Tatuev stated the insurgency in the republic may have as many as several thousand members (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/kab-balk/1653351.html). This was the first sensational admission of its kind, and it went against the authorities’ demand to emphasize positive news in the North Caucasus with the approach of next year’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. A statement by the republican interior ministry that there has not been a single case of a rebel surrendering to the authorities was just as revealing as the estimate of the number of insurgents.

A commission for adapting former members of the illegal armed formations was established in the republic back in May 2011 (www.kp.ru/online/news/894025/), and it appears that this initiative was little appreciated by the rebels. Previously, the authorities reported cases of rebels who supposedly surrendered (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/212526/). In reality, however, it is not the rebels themselves, but rather their relatives who normally appeal to these commissions, in an effort to help family members. Also, people who think they have come under suspicion may sometimes address these commissions to clear their reputations.

Thus, it is not worth looking at one of the republics in the North Caucasus and considering it a specific case with unique processes. In fact, all the republics in the region have the same diagnosis—they are infected by a virus of radicalism that is contracted through the adoption of Salafi ideology. So analysts will have to return to exploring the situation in the region again and again, because it will allow them to understand not only the problems of the region, but also the nature of Russian policies toward Muslims and how Moscow’s approaches to dealing with this problem are part of the problem, not the solution.