Kremlin Counter-Insurgency Efforts Deepen Local Animosity in Dagestan

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 94

(Source: RFE/RL)

On May 9, the leader of the North Caucasian rebels, Doku Umarov, appointed Ibragimkhalil Daudov (aka Emir Salikh) as the new head of the Dagestani insurgency — or the “Dagestani front,” in Umarov’s words. Daudov replaces Israpil Velidzhanov (aka Emir Khasan), who was killed in a shootout with government forces on April 18 (, May 10). Daudov confirmed his allegiance to Umarov and acknowledged his predecessor’s death once again, and also appointed a certain Emir Abu Makhammad as his deputy (, May 13).

Since the Dagestani insurgent leader Rappani Khalilov (aka Emir Rabbani) was killed by the state security services in September 2007, no other leader of the insurgents in this republic has survived even one year. Yet despite what appears to be the ability of the government to keep the insurgents in check, the situation in Dagestan years has deteriorated over the past several rather than improved. In March 2010, Dagestani insurgents reportedly staged the double suicide attack in the Moscow metro, killing 40 people. In September 2010, the Irganai hydroelectric plan was attacked. In June 2009, Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgirei Magomedtagirov was killed, allegedly by insurgents. More Russian security servicemen were killed in Dagestan in 2010 (159) than in all other North Caucasian republics, put together (130) (

These terror attacks and statistics attest to the phenomenal mismatch between the increased volatility in Dagestan and increased efficiency of the security services in killing off insurgent leaders in the republic. It is plausible to suggest that this cycle of violence is going to continue and probably even grow worse, as the government appears determined to continue its uncompromising crackdown on the rebels in Dagestan. In one recent attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the central part of Makhachkala on May 10, killing one policeman. A source in the police told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that the bomber might have been targeting Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, who had planned to visit a police hospital near where the blast took place (, May 10).

The new leader of the Dagestani militants, Ibragimkhalil Daudov, is a 50-year-old veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Daudov joined the insurgency in 2007 along with his wife and three sons, leaving behind a small-time refrigerator repair business. Since then, two of his sons were killed, while his wife Zavzhat was killed in an accidental explosion in Moscow last December 31 while she was allegedly preparing an explosive device for a suicide attack. Daudov comes from a Dagestani insurgency stronghold — the ancient, Dargin-populated village of Gubden. The previous leader of the Dagestani rebels and organizer of the 2010 Moscow metro bombing, Magomedali Vagabov, also came from this remote village in the mountains (Kommersant, February 1). The life story of the newly appointed leader of the Dagestani insurgency and his family well illustrates the serious, perhaps even existential rift between the government and some of its ablest and most courageous citizens, the potential middle class.

Moscow intensified its efforts to fight the insurgents in Dagestan soon after it appeared that the attack on the March 2010 metro was conceived and implemented by Dagestanis. In July-September 2010, scores of suspected militants were killed by the government forces. However, just a few months later the Russian government may have indicated signs of wariness in Dagestan because of the growing opposition from the population of the republic. On April 15, Kavkazsky Uzel reported that the much prized Russian mountain infantry brigade stationed in Botlikh, Dagestan was quietly being withdrawn. A source in the local municipality confirmed that the local authorities were told to be ready to assume responsibility for the brigade’s infrastructure as the military relinquished control over the base. The official explanation given for the withdrawal was the absence of suitable shooting ranges. Unofficially, anonymous soldiers told Kavkazsky Uzel that the local population was too hostile. “We did not experience such a negative attitude toward us even in Chechnya,” one of the interviewed servicemen told the reporter. “At least there no one openly told us ‘you have nothing to do in our land’. While here we hear this nearly every day.” The construction of the military base in Botlikh started in 2004 and by 2007 it was fully populated by a force of contract servicemen. According to unofficial information, hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars were spent on building this modern military base.  From the very beginning, the base met with strong opposition from the local Dagestanis, who complained that the base took away scarce arable lands in the mountains (, April 15).

As the violence in Dagestan continues unabated, local journalists also feel afraid. On May 13, a group of Dagestani journalists addressed President Dmitry Medvedev with a plea for support. According to an open letter to Medvedev, 12 journalists were killed in the republic during past 10 years and none of these murders has been solved. The journalists complained that Dagestani journalists found themselves between the Scylla and Charybdis of the criminals and the law enforcement agencies, with both putting enormous pressure on them (, May 13). In the latest round of violence against journalists, a journalist at an Islamic, Avar-language paper As-Salam, Yakhya Magomedov was gunned down in the Khasavyurt district of northern Dagestan on May 8 (, May 8).

The mounting violence and personal insecurity seems to have become so inherent to Dagestan, while Moscow still seems to be sticking with its heavy reliance on punitive military actions, that it is hard to foresee any positive outcome from the current situation. As the Russian government increases its pressure on the rebels, hostility toward Russia appears to be spreading gradually to wider circles of Dagestani society.