On July 24, Russian government forces killed three suspected militants in the city of Dagestanskie Ogni in southern Dagestan. The security services accused the slain suspects of plotting terror attacks in central Russia, pointing to an arsenal of weapons and two suicide bomber belts that were reportedly found at the site of the special operation. Mekhtiber Bashirov, Islamudin Guseinov, Zagra Kadimagomedova, along with a Russian convert to Islam, Inna Cherenkova, were described as “bandits” who refused to comply with security forces’ order to surrender. Only Kadimagomedova survived in the special operation, suffering a minor injury. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, who was visiting Dagestan the day of the operation, requested that the servicemen who took part in the operation receive commendations (www.rian.ru, July 24).
However, controversy started soon after the operation was completed. Dagestani police spokesman Vyacheslav Gasanov did not confirm that suicide bomber belts were found in Dagestanskie Ogni. Previously, Russian security services sources alleged that two women had been prepared to carry out suicide attacks in the cities of central Russia. Gasanov still insisted that the women could have surrendered during the negotiations with the suspected militants but that the police had no choice but to shoot at all of the suspects once they started to run away (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 28).
The experts were divided as to whether the women could have been saved. The killed Inna Cherenkova was 21 and had a three-month old baby. Some experts told Caucasian Knot website that it was possible to save the women since they were running in a different direction from that of the men. Other experts stated that the law enforcements were afraid of women carrying suicide bomber belts and therefore could not allow them to escape or arrest them (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 26).
The travails of Zagra Kadimagomedova (or Kazimagomedova) apparently began a few years ago as documented by the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website. On October 29, 2009, Kadimagomedova informed Kavkazsky Uzel that her husband, Murad Salikhov, had disappeared. According to Kadimagomedova, an investigator, Abdurakhman Kazakbiev, had confirmed in a telephone conversation that her husband was being interrogated and “would soon be released.” On November 1, 2009, Salikhov was found dead along with two other men in his blown up and burned out car in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkentsky district (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/161449/?full_page=true). It appears that rather than solving the death of Kadimagomedova’s husband, the police instead drove Kadimagomedova herself underground as a potential rebel accomplice.
There may be legitimate concerns for public safety that allow the police in the North Caucasus to react harshly to anyone they suspect. But, in this case, the security services’ credibility was undermined by apparently unfounded claims about suicide belts and planned attacks in central Russia. As reported by Maxim Shevchenko, a member of the Russian Public Chamber who is active in the North Caucasus, Kadimagomedova tried to help the badly wounded Cherenkova, went back to the house they had escaped from and called for an ambulance (http://echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/797000-echo/). The surrealism of the situation probably has a very simple explanation: since there is practically no control over the police and security services, they do not have to pay a price for mistakes, while rewards are almost always at hand.
So there is an incentive for law enforcement personnel to kill suspected militants, without approaching the suspects too closely and thereby putting themselves in danger, and then claim to have killed dangerous rebels who had been hatching dangerous plots. While this tactic may appear to the security services to be effective and attractive, in the long run, it is obviously fueling civil war in Dagestan.
Even Maxim Shevchenko, ostensibly a pro-Kremlin figure, cautiously criticized the government’s approach to the insurgency problem in the North Caucasus following the incident in Dagestanskie Ogni. He pointed out that suspected militants in Dagestan are rarely brought to trial, most of them being killed on the spot during the special operations under the pretext that their capture was not feasible. Shevchenko compared this to the situation in the rest of Russia: “When armed-to-the-teeth skinheads who kill migrants are arrested in Moscow they are somehow arrested alive. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, they somehow do not scrimp on conducting operations and investigations, lying in wait and apprehending [suspects]” (http://echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/797000-echo/).
The difference between law enforcement behavior in the North Caucasus and the rest of Russia has been striking and obvious to anyone that has followed the situation long enough. For the first time, however, such a pro-Kremlin loyalist as Maxim Shevchenko has openly recognized it. While he blames both sides, the insurgents and the government forces, it is needless to say that in order to break this vicious cycle of violence, the government should take the lead. Whether the Russian bureaucratic machine is capable of forming a coherent, law abiding police force is still in question. However, the current law enforcement agencies are clearly fueling civil conflict in the North Caucasus.
More subtly, the growing public understanding of Moscow’s different attitude toward the North Caucasus and the ethnic Russian regions puts not only the insurgents but the entire population of the North Caucasus at loggerheads with Russia’s ethnic Russian population. During a soccer game on July 24 in Makhachkala, where Dagestan was hosting a team from St. Petersburg, the local Dagestani police reportedly sided with their fellow Dagestanis during clashes with the visiting Russian team’s fans (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 25).