On February 2, the Dagestani government outlined its latest plans for curbing the insurgency in the republic. The statement by the head of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, on governmental plans to exert control over the republic sounded like a plan to occupy a foreign country. “We have established five operational groups out of police officers, Russian Interior Ministry troops and the FSB (Federal Security Service) to establish law and order on Dagestan’s territory. The groups are stationed in the districts where the terrorist threat is the greatest – Derbent, Kizlyar, Sergokala, Untsukul, Tsumada. This districting allows us to control most of the republican territory and we will continue our work. There are proposals to expand the zone of action, the numbers of troops and operational units” (https://www.riadagestan.ru/news/2012/2/2/131993/, February 2).
All the operational groups except the Kizlyar group are stationed in the mountainous districts of the republic that border the lowland districts. The rationale behind this deployment must be to shield the more easily controlled areas in the valleys from the mountainous territories where governmental rule has had progressively diminishing penetration.
Ethnic Azeris comprise the majority of Derbent district’s population. However, it is the ethnic Lezgins and Tabasarans who traditionally enjoy a privileged status in the district. Kizlyar district is predominantly Avar populated, but it also has a significant population of Dargins, Russians and Nogais. Sergokala district is an overwhelmingly Dargin-populated area, while nearly all the residents of the Untsukul and Tsumada districts are Avars or people closely associated with the Avars (https://www.ethno-kavkaz.narod.ru/rndaghestan.html). This brief analysis shows that the insurgency is sufficiently diffused among the different ethnic groups of Dagestan. Both of the largest Dagestani ethnicities, the Avars and the Dargins, which have concurrently governed the republic in the past two decades, are present in the most restive districts.
2011 was marked by an increased number of public protests in Dagestan. Several rallies were held to demand that the government stop abuses by the security services. Some protests were even implicitly organized by Salafis to protect their rights. The political dynamics in the republic appeared to favor a turn from the armed insurgency to public protests. However, the current Dagestani government, backed by Moscow, rules out the right of people to protest peacefully. While initially admitting the right of citizens to protest publicly, Magomedsalam Magomedov went on to say that not everybody has this right. “[T]hose who aim to stage a protest for the sake of it are destructive forces,” he said. “They should be strictly warned about their responsibility, to the point of putting administrative and criminal prosecution pressure on them” (https://www.riadagestan.ru/news/2012/2/2/131993/, February 2). Needless to say, the government itself will determine which protests actions are “genuine” and which are “destructive.” The combination of the increasing military presence and applying more stringent rules for public gatherings makes the government strategy especially threatening for the prospects of peace in this volatile republic. Magomedov briefly touched on the issue of police abuses, but it appeared to be just an attempt to appease part of the audience, not part of the government’s policy.
One of the five special units to fight the insurgents is stationed in the Untsukul district village of Shamilkala. The detachment consists of 500 officers from various regions of Russia, including some Dagestanis. On February 3, servicemen from this unit detained three young Dagestanis in the district and through beatings tried to extract information from them. The young men were subsequently released. One of the men interviewed by the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website, Aslangerei Magomedov, said he would not lodge an official complaint. “Everything in this system is under control; you can’t find any justice,” he said. “So I don’t see any point in lodging complaint” (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/200535/, February 4). Separately, on February 3, three people were kidnapped in Dagestan’s Kizlyar district. It was only the next day that relatives discovered them in the Kizlyar district police station (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/200544/, February 4).
According to Dagestani Interior Minister Abdurashid Magomedov, in 2011, insurgents made 196 attempts on the lives of law enforcement officers, resulting in the deaths of 91 and the wounding of 231 officers. There are reportedly 12 insurgent groups in the republic with a combined manpower of up to 300 people. Their ranks are being “actively populated,” Magomedov admitted. The number of “banditry”-related crimes increased three-fold in Dagestan in 2011(https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/200444/, February 3).
According to Kavkazsky Uzel, 111 servicemen died in attacks and 281 were injured in Dagestan last year. In 2010 the figures for servicemen killed and injured were 124 and 200, respectively. The figures for the number of insurgents killed in 2011 and 2010 were, respectively, 173 and 176. The rapid rise in the number of civilian deaths made 2011 especially deadly for the republic: 129 civilians were killed and 130 were injured. In 2010, 78 civilians were killed and 107 injured (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/198813/, January 5).
Given the scant level of attention the Dagestani government pays to police abuses and its focus on expanding the military presence, the civilians in the republic will likely continue to bear the brunt of the fighting between the government and the rebel forces in 2012. As the government vows to further limit the people’s right to assemble peacefully, the conflict is likely to intensify even further.