In an interview with the website Kavkazskaya Politika, Kabardino-Balkaria’s Deputy Interior Minister Kazbek Tatuev described the republic’s ongoing security dilemmas. According to the official, the underground movement in the republic is structured according to administrative divisions featuring an amir and his deputies (naibs) in each sector. Tatuev rejected accusations made by many rights activists of police brutality, saying that the police in the republic “never shoots first” at the rebels. Contrary to multiple accounts of witnesses and rights activists, the police official claimed that government forces always allow surrounded rebels to surrender. Among the most dubious aspects of Tatuev’s assertions were the statistics he provided, including his claim that the insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria is currently comprised of “fewer than 20 people” and “never exceeded 70 people” (Kavkazskaya Politika, November 5).
The statistics for 2011, however, indicate that 80 suspected militants were killed in Kabardino-Balkaria alone, meaning that in 2011, at least, there apparently were more than 70 militants in the republic (Kavkazsky Uzel, January 12, 2012). In addition, Kabardino-Balkaria’s deputy interior minister “forgot” that in the infamous attack on Nalchik, on October 13, 2005, government forces claimed they killed nearly 100 rebels and arrested over 70 suspects. Most of the suspects subsequently received harsh prison sentences and some died in custody. Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Rasul Kudaev also received a lengthy sentence and was recognized as a political prisoner by the Memorial human rights center in 2013 (Kavkazsky Uzel, October 13).
Given Tatuev’s sketchy numbers concerning the Islamic insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria, the figures he provides on the number of militants who left Kabardino-Balkaria to fight in the Middle East may also be inaccurate, to say the least. Tatuev asserted: “We have every reason to suspect several dozen people of participation in international terrorist organizations. We have launched criminal probes into those cases on the basis of Article 208 of the Russian Criminal Code [Establishment of or Participation in an Illegal Armed Group]. One such individual was tried and sentenced to three years in prison last year for participation in international terrorist organizations” (Kavkazskaya Politika, November 5).
The real figures may be significantly higher because Kabardino-Balkaria has strong ties with the Circassian diaspora in Turkey and authorities have had difficulty following who passed through Turkey while traveling to Syria and who remains in Turkey for other purposes. Despite the lower level of violence in Kabardino-Balkaria today, the threat the insurgency poses in the republic appears to remain quite significant. The Nalchik-based human rights activist Valery Khatazhukov said in an interview this past summer that every two to three years, the leaders of the armed underground are eliminated due to some lucky coincidence, and the situation calms down. However, the social, economic and political conditions that breed discontent do not disappear, so the insurgency eventually reemerges. The rights activist also said that the government commission for adapting rebels to civilian life in Kabardino-Balkaria is practically not functioning, since the republic’s leadership gives little support to its work. According to Khatazhukov, 100–150 residents of the republic left to go and fight in Syria. Kabardino-Balkaria’s government has turned a blind eye to young people who seek to join the insurgency in the Middle East, promptly providing them with foreign passports, according to Khatazhukov (Kavkazskaya Politika, July 29).
Kabardino-Balkaria’s Deputy Interior Minister Tatuev provided a glimpse of how pervasive the insurgency is in the republic. “Some have higher education degrees, they have a variety of statuses, some are unemployed,” he said. “[Kabardino-Balkarian] graduates of Moscow universities join the insurgency; some of the militants are former medical school students. Others joined the insurgency immediately after school or after running their businesses” (Kavkazskaya Politika, November 5).
The political side of the insurgency in the republic is consciously ignored by the government. For decades, Kabardino-Balkaria has not had free and fair elections and its government has been plagued by persistent corruption. Along with other North Caucasian republics, it is among the poorest Russian regions, and since its residents have no say in political affairs or changing their future, some choose violence as a means to force political change. The use of illegal policing methods in the republic further antagonizes disenfranchised individuals and provides support to the insurgency (Kavkazskaya Politika, July 29).
This trend is likely to continue and even intensify because Russia as a whole faces a stagnant political and economic environment and worsening economic conditions. President Vladimir Putin’s crusade against Ukraine, the Syrian rebels and the West may temporarily help the Russian government relieve the tensions in the North Caucasus because the Russian population tends to forget about its economic and political woes while “rallying around the flag.” However, that crusade cannot last for an extended period, and the realities on the ground will force citizens to reassess their loyalties to the state once again.