March appeared to be a fairly successful month for the Russian security services that carried out counterterrorism operations in Kabardino-Balkaria. On March 29, Kabardino-Balkaria’s parliament, along with republican Interior Minister Sergei Vasiliev, appealed to Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin, asking him to resolve the issue of manpower shortages in the republican Interior Ministry (http://regnum.ru/news/1515297.html#ixzz1qlp8NJH8).
The appeal came in response to a speech Vasiliev gave in May 2011, when he complained that Kabardino-Balkaria’s police force had 2,500 fewer officers than the North Ossetian police (http://memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/caucas1/msg/2011/05/m251099.htm). Kabardino-Balkaria’s police force has almost 7,000 members (http://аэропочта.рф/lagry/pravo/korrupcija_v_milicii_kabardino-balkarskoj_respubliki_i_saratovskoj_oblasti__saratov__2006__77_s_3.html). Since North Ossetia’s police force is staffed by 9,239 servicemen, Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Minister is likely to ask that the police force in his republic be increased to at least 10,000 officers, to exceed the size of the force in North Ossetia.
Against the backdrop of staff shortages in the local police, the police and Federal Security Service (FSB) have recently scored a number of successes against rebels in the republic. In a special operation in the suburban settlement of Mir in Chegem district on March 12, six people from the rebels’ so-called southwestern sector were neutralized. Five of them were killed – 37-year-old Arslan Gegraev, 27-year-old Rustam Zhuboev, 24-year-old Zalimkhan Khakonov, 39-year-old Azret Suyunbaev and 25-year-old Diana Gulieva – while a female native of Karachaevo-Cherkessia was captured (http://www.regnum.ru/news/accidents/1508795.html#ixzz1qlpr0n00). This operation was notable because, for the first time, civilians tried to act as intermediaries between the authorities and the rebels: A group of mothers of people who disappeared in the republic, along with those whose sons are on the federal wanted list, went to the site of the special operation to try to convince the six rebels to surrender. The government, of course, did not allow them to make contact with the militants.
A source in the law enforcement agencies reported that when police tried to stop a Mercedes-Benz on March 16, “people in the car resisted and were killed by return fire.” The people in the car reportedly threw a hand grenade at the law enforcement agents (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/203156/). The authorities did not know either the names of those killed or whether they were affiliated with any insurgency group. The officials only said that those killed had been planning terror attacks and were eliminated in a special operation. Officials declined to answer a question by journalists as to whether those killed were on the wanted list. The authorities no longer even try to portray their actions as lawful and legal.
On March 24, in the village of Dulugbei in Kabardino-Balkaria’s Baksan district, the commander of the district’s mobile patrol police unit, Rustam Khazhiev was gunned down on the doorsteps of his house. On March 27, the law enforcement agencies reported they had killed an insurgent who appeared to be the leader of Kabardino-Balkaria’s rebels. Police and FSB units blocked off several streets in Nalchik at 4:30 a.m., as two suspected rebels were reportedly hiding in the area. According to the Investigative Committee of Kabardino-Balkaria, a shootout erupted when the besieged rebels opened fire in response to demands that they surrender. The house burned down as the result of a grenade explosion. One of the suspects, the owner of the property, surrendered. The press service of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee later said that the slain person was Alim Zankishiev (aka Emir Ubaida) (www.bbc.co.uk/russian/rolling_news/2012/03/120327_rn_police_raid_one_killed.shtml). That same day, the rebel command in Kabardino-Balkaria confirmed that Emir Ubaida had been killed (http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2012/03/28/89660.shtml). The rebel leader’s wife, who had been arrested in a special operation in the village of Mir on March 12, was brought to the location of the special operation. Zankishiev, an ethnic Balkar, had led the Yarmuk jamaat since September 9, 2011.
On the evening on March 29, a car was stopped in a Nalchik street. Those in the car put up armed resistance to the police’s attempt to arrest them and were fatally wounded. Those killed were identified as Aslan Zagashtokov, leader of the Baksan district’s jamaat, and another member of the same jamaat, Zaurbek Zagashtokov (http://regnum.ru/news/polit/1515718.html#ixzz1qlopDcJt). On March 30, an unknown person was killed by police in Nalchik after he fired at them (http://regnum.ru/news/1515980.html#ixzz1qlpMwPAO).
The issue of torture and disappearances in Kabardino-Balkaria also remains highly topical. On March 6, Inal Berov was seized by members of the police’s criminal investigation department in the presence of his father and younger brother and taken to Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Ministry. There police beat him up, demanding that he admit his sympathies for the rebels. The police were unable to extract a confession from him and let him go the next day.
Those arrested are sometimes charged with illegal possession of arms, as was the case with three residents of Kabardino-Balkaria arrested in a Nalchik suburb on charges of possessing hand grenades and drugs. According the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, a workshop for making IEDs was discovered in the basement of a house in Nalchik on March 14. Meanwhile, a resident of the city of Tyrnyauz, Roza Aishaeva, and a resident of the city of Nalchik, Larisa Nagoeva, appealed to rights activists to help them to defend the rights of their sons, Murat Aishaev and Murat Nagoev, who, according to the women, were kidnapped by law enforcement agents. The young men were tortured to extract confessions that they belong to the insurgency, their mothers said. There were allegations of torture in other cases reported to the “Memorial” Human Rights Center (http://hro.org/node/13667). Such incidents are no longer isolated ones.
During March, 13 rebels and a policeman were killed in Kabardino-Balkaria. Despite that, the militants staged four attacks on government forces and carried out two bombings targeting police (http://kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/204072/). It should be noted that these incidents took place in a republic that, according to the authorities, aspires to become a recreational area for international tourism in Russia.
Thus, Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Ministry and FSB have been exerting massive pressure on the rebels, with evident success. In March alone, the rebels lost their leader and the leaders of two sectors. This will have an impact on the rebels’ viability, since it will take time and effort to establish links between the new leader and the rebels who lost their sector commanders. Sector commanders normally serve as intermediaries between the leadership and the rebels on the ground. This makes the situation for the militant leadership in this part of the North Caucasus especially challenging. It is possible that Moscow has decided to mount a massive campaign against all armed resistance in the region.