Memorial Report Attributes Improved Security Situation in the North Caucasus to Increase In Russian Troops

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 149

Memorial (Source: euronews.net)

On July 22, the Memorial human rights center published a report on the most recent trends and developments in the North Caucasus. The report summarizes events spanning March-May 2011, and covers primarily Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.  The report notes there was an increase of 6,000 Russian law enforcement and military servicemen in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria in March. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why law enforcement personnel suffered fewer casualties in the spring of 2011 – with 44 killed and 53 wounded, compared to 65 killed and 135 wounded in the same period of 2010 (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/189517/#6).
 
However, the casualty figures do not always translate into a correct assessment of the level of tension in a given region. For example, of the 44 servicemen killed in the North Caucasus in March-May 2011, 34 were killed in Dagestan and 6 in Ingushetia, while only two were killed in Kabardino-Balkaria and one in Chechnya. Focusing just on these numbers could be misleading. Kabardino-Balkaria is the only region where a counterterrorist operation has been in force from February 2011 to date. Chechnya appears to have been nearly the quietest territory in the North Caucasus. But on July 7, the rebel Kavkaz Center website reported that five to seven inhabitants of the village of Ramzan Kadyrov’s clan, Khosi-Yurt (aka Tsentoroi), including several of Kadyrov’s own relatives, fled to join the rebels (www.kavkazcenter.com, July 7).
 
Memorial noted an astonishing new trend – the emergence of ethnic Russian Islamic radicals. Six ethnic Russian converts to Islam were killed or died in suicide attacks in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria in February-May. The total number of rebels remained obscure: the best possible estimate was given in April by the then Russian presidential representative to international organizations on terrorism issues, Anatoly Safonov, who said there were “several hundred” (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/189517/#6).
 
The report points to a notable reversal of a trend in the public relations (PR) policy of the Russian security services. Not long ago, Russian officials, especially those with a background in the security services, habitually blamed unnamed foreign countries for financing and fueling conflict in the North Caucasus. Now the security services officially admit that the insurgents in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria raise most of their operational resources locally, in their respective regions. Law enforcement sources report that in 2010 in Dagestan alone, state employees and businessmen contributed almost $4 million to the insurgents. If non-monetary contributions, like lodging and food supplies, were counted, this number would probably be even higher. Chechen insurgents reportedly cannot rely on collecting much revenue from the republic’s impoverished local population (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/189517/#6).
 
The report says of the current situation in Ingushetia that “the insurgency’s resistance has been broken, but there is no civilian peace.” Indeed, Memorial continued to document numerous kidnappings and extralegal killings in this republic, some of which even evoked public protests in March that ended in a police crackdown on the protesters. Meanwhile, Ilez Gorchkhanov, who was abducted in March, was found dead a month later.
 
Memorial’s report emphasizes that the tactics of the law enforcement bodies did not significantly change across the North Caucasus recently. “The excessive application of force during special operations, kidnappings, the killing of suspected rebels during special operations rather than arresting them and putting them on trial, are still widely practiced,” the report states, adding that many of those killed, including innocent people, are posthumously indentified as rebels. The rights activists also point out that the battle against militants in Kabardino-Balkaria quickly escalated to the point where the police in this once quiet republic started to employ the same crude practices used in the other parts of the North Caucasus with a history of protracted violent conflict (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/189517/#6).
 
The Dagestani government made moves to increase its powers to persuade insurgents to surrender by setting up a commission for adapting militants to civilian life. However, the commission’s activities were accompanied by continued police malpractice, which may have been responsible for minimizing the commission’s impact. From the commission’s inception in November 2010 until end of July, only 30 rebels reportedly surrendered to the authorities in Dagestan (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 26). For the largest and arguably most violent republic of the North Caucasus, that is a fairly insignificant number.  Memorial’s report specifically addresses a relatively new law enforcement practice in Dagestan. There were several incidents in which Russian police and military surrounded mosques with the reputation for harboring “Wahhabis” and rounded up all the young men, beating and interrogating them en masse after or during Friday prayers. Several cases in which people disappeared after visiting police stations were also reported (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/189517/#6).
 
Memorial’s report paints a mainly grim picture of the situation in the North Caucasus, documenting largely unchanged police abuses and even the spread of such abuses across the region. The systemic nature of law enforcement misconduct in the North Caucasus implicates Moscow as having primary responsibility for the rampant violations of human rights in the region. It is the federal government that creates and spreads the security services’ modus operandi in the region. There have been promising attempts to build a dialogue with the Salafi Islamists in Dagestan, but the government seems to view the dialogue as an opportunity for the rebels to surrender and for the government to pardon them under certain conditions. This approach appears to lay a shaky foundation for building a stable society in the North Caucasus.