Moscow Launches Effort to “Chechenize” Dagestan

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 135

Russian security forces in Dagestan (Source: Press TV)

The Russian government is still looking for the ways to solve the armed resistance problem in the North Caucasus. The government, however, makes no attempt to understand the core issues of the region, seeking instead a quick fix using administrative methods and force. This time, in addition to the numerous police, Federal Security Service (FSB) and military forces in the region, the authorities have decided to create a new group to fight terrorism in Dagestan. According to Russian sources, this special force consists of some 7,000 people (http://lenta.ru/news/2011/06/27/thousands) – 5,497 Dagestani policemen, 150 special squad policemen, and 878 Russian interior ministry servicemen, including 500 personnel from the Special Forces and 10 road police crews. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev announced the creation of the force during a visit to Makhachkala.

This unit is exactly the one advertised in the Russian media in the summer of 2010 (http://lenta.ru/news/2010/09/25/special/). At that time, it was planned that this unit would include two to three battalions organized along the lines of the Chechen Sever and Yug (Zapad and Vostok) battalions – that is, their members would come from members of the local population who sign contracts with the Russian police or the army. Local conscripts were thought to qualify for serving in these detachments. This, again, is taken from Chechnya, where local conscripts are assigned to the military units that play a support role for the Sever and Yug battalions during operations against the militants. The conscripts are most often used as a cordon around the area of a special operation. Chechen conscripts are not drafted into the Russian army, as they are considered to undermine military discipline. It is also thought that the Chechen conscripts might come into conflict with those officers who fought in Chechnya. Moreover, inspired by the Chechen conscripts’ example, other North Caucasians have started to demand prayer rooms, the removal of pork from the menu, etc (http://www.utro.ru/news/2010/08/13/914513.shtml).

As time went by, however, the authorities changed their initial plans in order to avoid possible disputes caused by the Chechen battalions becoming sources of discord between the local and federal authorities. As a result, we see in Dagestan that the new detachment was set up on the basis of local policemen, but under the command of the Russian FSB and interior ministry. The tasks of the new group include fighting the armed resistance, cutting weapons supply chains and combating organized crime. There are few doubts that the main, if not the only, mission of the new detachment is to fight the armed resistance. Even according to Nurgaliev, terrorist activities have increased in Dagestan this year by 19 percent in comparison to the same period of 2010. The fact that the quantity of servicemen in the unit increased sevenfold in comparison with the initial plan testifies to the importance of its mission (www.utro.ru/news/2010/08/13/914513.shtml).

This is not the only Chechen example that the Dagestani authorities decided to emulate: last November, the head of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, decreed the establishment of a commission under the president of Dagestan to reintegrate insurgents who renounce their resistance activities. This commission, like its Chechen counterpart, is expected to elicit the voluntary surrender of militants along with their weapons and networks (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/176413/). Diverse groups of people were attracted to work on this commission, including Abbas Kebedov, brother of Magomed Kebedov, the main ideologue of the Dagestani Salafis. Magomed Kebedov, better known as Bagaudin of Kizilyurt, organized the incursion by the Dagestani jamaats into Botlikh in August 1999, which sparked the second war in Chechnya. The commission’s members visit Dagestani villages and promote the surrender of militants by working with their relatives. The commission serves as a type of guarantor of the rights of the militants who surrender. So far, however, this commission has not managed to secure the surrender of a single more or less known lower level armed resistance commander, not to mention mid-level commanders.    

In an attempt to put pressure on the militants or those who sympathize with them, the Dagestani authorities do not shy away from such actions as arson attacks on the houses of militants’ relatives (http://pravozashita05.ru/kidero_pojog/).  

Kidnappings and killings of young men suspected of involvement in the insurgency or sympathy for its cause, or of those disliked by the official clerics who carry out propaganda on the government’s behalf, are also part of today’s reality in Dagestan.

Thus the “Chechenization” of Dagestan is at hand. However, this does not solve the problem, but simply pushes the insurgents temporarily underground to gather strength, change their tactics and strategy in the near future.

During his visit to Kabardino-Balkaria on July 5, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reiterated that it is necessary to work with the militants, implying that pressure should be put on the militants’ relatives (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/kab-balk/1422285.html). Seeking any kind of negotiations seems to be totally out of question. The government appears to be uninterested in questions like what the rebels want or why they are prepared to give their lives for a different view of their homeland’s future. So by “working with the militants” the government does not even discuss the possibility of a dialogue with those whom it fears most and who consume most of the government’s resources. The authorities live in a world they invented for themselves, and therefore there is no objective reason for the conflict in the North Caucasus to fade away. On the contrary, it is evident that with each passing year, the forces that do not see themselves as being part of Russia gain strength in the region.

The authorities do not try to hide that they see the application of crude force as the only solution to the insurgency problem in the North Caucasus, and that this is the only way for the Russian authorities to change the tragic course of events before the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. One can be sure that as this date approaches, Moscow will not limit itself in using force and the methods it uses to try and solve the issue of the armed resistance in the North Caucasus.