Makhachkala in the New Year: Power Cuts and a Shootout

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 2

Police and security forces laid siege to an apartment on the outskirts of Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala, on January 13-14, killing three suspected militants, the Moscow Times reported on January 15. Deputy Makhachkala police chief Shamil Guseinov said a gun battle broke out late on January 13 after security forces surrounded and evacuated the five-story apartment building and suspected militants in a second-floor apartment refused to surrender. One police officer was wounded in the shootout. The battled resumed on the morning of January 14, and after several hours security forces entered the destroyed apartment and found the bodies of the three suspected militants. Citing Itar-Tass, the English-language newspaper quoted Vyacheslav Shanshin, head of the FSB branch for Dagestan, as telling reporters at the site of the battle on January 14 that the Special Forces had faced difficulties in carrying out the operation, with several residents refusing to open their doors when officers evacuated the building. Five apartments were destroyed in the operation.

In recent weeks, security forces in Dagestan have been forced to conduct repeated operations and in some cases employ heavy weapons against rebels located in the republic’s mountainous Untsukulsky and Tabasaransky districts (Chechnya Weekly, January 10).

The January 13-14 shootout between rebels and security forces on the outskirts of Makhachkala took place against the backdrop of rising public anger at power outages in the Dagestani capital. On January 7, Makhachkala residents blocked the streets to protest power cuts that were continuing after more than a week in unusually cold weather despite assurances by emergency services that the problem had been resolved (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 10). Kavkazky Uzel reported on January 11 that several thousand demonstrators had taken to the streets in Makhachkala and built barricades as widespread power outages continued and temperatures hit minus 15 degrees Celsius. The website quoted demonstrators as saying they planned to appeal to President Vladimir Putin and both the city and regional leadership to step down. Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, for his part, accused city residents of engaging in a political provocation. Kavkazky Uzel reported on January 14 that kindergartens and hospitals in Makhachkala remained without heat or electricity. On January 17, the website reported that medical and public institutions in the capital had been forced to use generators for power and that city residents were buying up candles and flashlights.

In a piece filed from Makhachkala and published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) on January 17, Diana Aliev reported that electricity shortages began in Dagestan in Spring 2007, that the first protest demonstrations were held in October when some people were left without power for five or six days and that the situation had become “dramatically worse” in the last two weeks of December, with clashes taking place between protesters and police. She quoted an anonymous source in Dagestan’s Interior Ministry as saying that there were fears the protest mood could get out of control and lead to a “catastrophic” situation. “A very dangerous situation has developed in Makhachkala,” the source told Aliev. “We are observing an uncontrollable crowd, and if someone wished to exploit this for their own ends, we can’t say how it would end. There have already been calls for people to smash the city administration building and the Makhachkala electricity headquarters, and even to take officials hostage.”

Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev blames the administration of Makhachkala Mayor Amirov for the crisis, IWPR reported. “It must be the first time that thousands of people have been left without light and heating as a result of a number of city leaders having an irresponsible, lazy attitude to their duties,” the publication quoted Aliev as saying. “The city has been heading in this direction for several years. The neglect of the utilities sector is plain to see.”

Meanwhile, Interfax reported that Magomed Ismailov, director of the municipal unitary enterprise Makhachkalatrans, was shot to death in Makhachkala on the morning of January 16.