Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 136

The increasing rebel attacks in Dagestan (see EDM, July 7) have finally forced Russian authorities to focus on the problems of the republic. Officials in Moscow now realize that the region needs special handling. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov recently conceded, “Of course we are worried about explosions in Dagestan, and this difficult problem should be resolved by civil methods as well as by force (yufo.ru, July 6).

On July 8, Moskovsky komsomolets published a report leaked from the office of Dmitry Kozak, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the Southern Federal District. The report, from Kozak to Putin, described Dagestan as rife with interethnic, religious, and social conflicts and on the brink of collapse. Specifically, “One should recognize that, taken together, the unsolved social, economic, and political problems are now reaching a critical level. Further ignoring the problems and attempts to drive them deep down by force could lead to an uncontrolled chain of events whose logical result will be open social, interethnic, and religious conflicts in Dagestan” (Moskovsky komsomolets, July 8). The authors of the report also warned that the rising influence of religious communities, especially at the local-government level, could result in the emergence of “Sharia enclaves” in the mountain districts of the republic. The report warned that an Islamic state could potentially materialize in the Dagestan mountains.

The aim of this undoubtedly deliberate leak is not very clear, but the report indicates that the Russian authorities are feverishly looking for ways to pacify the volatile region. The Kremlin is aware of the decaying, corrupt local government structure, which is divided by internal conflicts. Continuing attacks by Islamic separatists could accelerate this process.

However, Moscow has nothing new to offer. There is a Russian joke that, whenever one tries to produce something new in Russia, the end product always turns out to be the same Kalashnikov machine gun. Whatever the Kremlin might try in the Caucasus will inevitably be just a new version of the traditional carrot-and-stick policy.

According to Viktor Ozerov, Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee in the Russian Federation Council, the Russian interior minister proposed two ways to solve the Dagestan issue at a meeting of an ad hoc commission set up by the Federation Council to address the situation in the North Caucasus. One is to increase the number of police in the republic, making them better equipped and better paid, and the other is to take social and economic measures to resolve local economic problems (RIA-Novosti, July 12). In other words, the Kremlin could again pour more money and more troops into the unstable region.

Nevertheless, Kozak understands the need for policy innovation, and on July 11 he met with leaders of the Caucasian republics and regions in the town of Nalchik.

“The budget-oriented investment policy of the regions of the Southern Federal District has been mainly exhausted,” Kozak said during the meeting. That is why, he added, the Southern Federal District administration is working to attract new investments from non-budget sources (Vremya novostei, July 11).

At the same time, Kozak realizes that it is not easy to attract private investments to unstable regions like Dagestan, but then he said he had no doubts that “very soon the authorities would manage to stop the wave of terrorist acts in Dagestan and restore order in the republic.”

The new Kremlin policy towards Dagestan is quite clear: destroy the insurgency as soon as possible and then pump more and more budget money and private investments into the local economy. Unfortunately, nobody can say exactly when the rebels in Dagestan will be finally crushed. According to Vremya novostei, more than 2,000 militants may be active in the republic (Vremya novostei, July 6).

Following the death of Rasul Makasharipov, a top commander of the Dagestani rebels, in a shoot out on July 6, the authorities are more optimistic that they will be able to finish off the insurgents easily. Andrei Novikov, a Russian deputy interior minister who came to Dagestan to help local colleagues, followed the announcement of Makasharipov’s death with a declaration, “The security agencies went on the offensive in the region at last ” (Vesti, July 6). On July 11, Dagestan Minister of Interior Affairs Adalgirei Magomedtagirov said that policemen had conducted operations in the towns of Makhachkala, Buinaksk, Khasavyurt, and nine other villages. Hundreds of people were detained, he declared triumphantly, and hideouts, explosive devices, detonators, and Wahhabi literature were discovered (RIA-Novosti, July 11).

While the Minister seems optimistic, middle-ranking officers are more skeptical about the prospects of a quick victory over the rebels. A source in the police department for Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, told Kavkazsky Uzel agency, “There are several Wahhabi underground groups operating in the city” and the attacks would not end after the death of Makasharipov. The officials called Magomedtagirov’s last speech mere “window dressing” (Kavkazsky Uzel, July 12).

The rebels lost not time in demonstrating that the death of their leader would not affect the intensity of their attacks. On July 7, another freight train was derailed near Makhachkala and two police officers were killed in Khasavurt. Apparently, private investments in Dagestan will have to wait.