Russian authorities are hailing their handling of the October 13 rebel attack on
Nalchik, the capital of the Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, as a “great
success.” Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliev called the attack an
“act of desperation” on the part of the insurgents. “The bandit underground had to
step up their activity because we had been following close on their heels” (ORT-TV,
Russian officials have repeatedly stressed that the rebels failed to seize any of
the military and police facilities they attacked. According to the official account,
the rebels lost 91 gunmen and did not capture any weapons from the police or army.
Moreover, the official version insists that few militants escaped because most were
killed or arrested inside Nalchik.
On October 15 Russian President Vladimir Putin met with top security officials,
including Nurgaliev, Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov, Valentin Korabelnikov, chief
of Military Intelligence, and Alexander Bragin, deputy chief of the Federal Security
Service (FSB) (NTV, October 15). Putin said, “Our actions should be adequate to all
threats of the bandits to our country.” He promised “to act with the same toughness
and success as this time” in future (RIA-Novosti, October 15).
Despite these victorious statements, the meeting was held in Putin’s office behind
closed doors, suggesting that the authorities are concealing something from the
public. Clearly Putin is not satisfied with the FSB, since he invited the deputy
chief — not the director — of Russian counter-intelligence to the Kremlin. Many
observers believe that FSB Chief Nikolai Patrushev is close to resigning.
Even the official, censored information coming from Nalchik contradicts the
Kremlin’s version of events. According to eyewitnesses, the rebels attacked more
than 15 police and military facilities in Nalchik and — contrary to official claims
— seized at least two facilities: the Main Corrections Department and Police
Precinct #3. Nalchik’s Police Precinct #2 and the Anti-Terrorist Center were
completely destroyed during the attack. In addition, attackers occupied parts of the
Ministry of Internal Affairs and local FSB headquarters.
Internal Affairs Minister Nurgaliev told a special session of the State Duma
convened to discuss events in Nalchik that the militants had arrived in the city in
19 cars and minibuses (gazeta.ru, October 19). But the official report issued on the
morning of October 13 said that the rebels were seizing cars to escape from the
city. Many suspect that the extra vehicles were needed to haul away captured
weapons, an explanation strongly denied by officials.
There was also no law-enforcement coordination during the first hours of fighting.
Nobody knew what was happening. Local officials told journalists they had no
information, admitting, “There is absolute chaos in Nalchik.” Policemen were so
terrified that they jumped from windows to escape the assault (Moskovsky
komsomolets, October 15).
The militants insist that most of their fighters eluded capture and escaped from the
city. According to a statement by Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, who claimed to have
managed the attack, most of the gunmen had left the city by 11:15 am (Kavkazcenter,
October 16). Regnum reports that at least 50 militants went southward through
Khasanya village. Kavkazsky Uzel reported that some rebels left Nalchik the day
after the attack, when officials claimed to have 50 checkpoints in place. Marziat
Kholaeva, a resident of Khasanya, reported seeing five armed men passing through the
village to the mountains on October 14. They shot one of their prisoners, a
policeman, and abandoned another wounded hostage (Kavkazsky Uzel, October 15).
There are also doubts about the official casualty figures. Many believe that the 91
deaths quoted by the Kremlin include many civilians killed in the crossfire. Fatima
Tlisova, a local Associated Press correspondent, reports that a list has been
compiled of 40 missing persons. On October 13, all the people named on the list left
their homes but never returned. Their relatives, as well as the relatives of the
dead rebels, gather every day near the city’s morgue to find out more about the fate
of their loved ones. Russian law states that bodies of terrorists are not to be
returned to their families, and some in the crowd said that their relatives had been
deliberately classified as participants in the militant raid to prevent the release
of their corpse.
Basaev claims that 217 rebels participated in the attack, with about 41 insurgents
killed. The militants themselves came from Kabardino-Balkaria and neighboring
regions like Karachaevo-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, and Krasnodar.
With few causalities, the rebels will be able to continue their attacks in
Kabardino-Balkaria. In fact, guerilla warfare has already started in the republic.
On October 17, Camagat, the website of the rebels from Kabardino-Balkaria and
Karachaevo-Cherkessia, reported fierce fighting between insurgents and federal
troops near Kenzhe village, in the outskirts of Nalchik. The next day the
authorities admitted that a special operation was underway near Kenzhe to search for
fighters who use the settlement as a base (Interfax, October 18). Kavkazsky Uzel
reported that gunmen attacked the police special-task unit (OMON) headquarters in
Iskozh district of Nalchik on October 17. The same day NTV said that there was an
attack on a police checkpoint manned by troops from Rostov-on-Don, a detachment sent
to Nalchik to reinforce local troops (NTV, October 18). On October 18, Camagat again
reported clashes in Nalchik and Baksan, a village in the north of the republic. The
website also said that policemen had taken several female hostages in the Balkar
village of Bilim in Elbrus mountain district. They want to exchange the women for
It is difficult to say whether a long-term guerilla war by Kabardinian insurgents
will undermine the authorities, but the operation seems to be quit real. Putin may
soon find himself in another quagmire like the ongoing one in Chechnya.