Moscow Launches Military Buildup in the North Caucasus to Safeguard Sochi Olympics

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 36

On February 17, the Memorial human rights center, the only Russian civil organization that closely monitors the situation in the North Caucasus, published data on attacks against the Russian law enforcement agencies and the army in the volatile region. According to the open source analysis done by the website, 840 servicemen were affected by insurgent attacks, with 289 killed and 551 injured. Memorial’s report notes the striking similarity between the number of victims among servicemen in 2010 and 2009. In 2009, 835 servicemen fell victims to insurgent assaults, with 273 killed and 562 injured (, February 17).

The assessment shows that Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria were the hotspots of the insurgency in the North Caucasus in 2010. In comparison to 2009, the number of Russian servicemen killed in 2010 dropped by more than half in Ingushetia –from 92 to 40– and nearly as much in Chechnya –from 93 to 55. However, this decrease was compensated by a two-fold increase in the number of servicemen killed in Dagestan –from 83 in 2009 to 159 in 2010– and a more than six-fold increase in the number of servicemen killed in Kabardino-Balkaria –from 5 in 2009 to 33 in 2010 (, February 17).

Kabardino-Balkaria was clearly an entirely new territory that joined the ring of destabilization in the North Caucasus in 2010. This trend appears to have continued into 2011, with the Russian authorities introducing a counterterrorist operation regime in Elbrus and parts of Baksan district in Kabardino-Balkaria on February 20. The government was forced to step up security measures following the killing of three vacationers from Moscow in Baksan district on February 18 (Interfax, February 19). On February 19, attackers blew up a cable-car support pole near Mount Elbrus, entirely paralyzing the republic’s ski-tourism industry. That same day, the head of administration of the suburban Nalchik village of Khasanya, Ramazan Friev, was killed (, February 19). The introduction of the counterterrorist regime in Kabardino-Balkaria in itself is a further blow to Moscow’s plans for solving the issue of North Caucasus instability through the economic development of the region.

Memorial’s assessment of violence in the North Caucasus in 2010 also may have some unintentional analytical shortcomings. In particular, there is little unfiltered information coming out of Chechnya.  The reliability of information coming from other republics, especially Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, is also unsatisfactory due to the underdeveloped local media, lack of access of independent journalists and government censorship. On August 29, 2010, Ramzan Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentoroi was attacked by a large rebel group and on October 19 the rebels attacked Chechnya’s parliament in Grozny. In both cases information about the number of casualties among law enforcement personnel was highly controversial. The Chechen authorities habitually refuse to publish the figures for the number of law enforcement agents killed (, February 17).

Memorial reports that of all the Russian law enforcement agencies, only the Russian interior ministry published aggregated data on terrorism-related losses in the North Caucasus, while the Federal Security Service (FSB), Prosecutor General’s Office, Defense Ministry and the National Antiterrorist Committee did not publish their data or did so for only part of the year. The agencies, according to Memorial, “unveil those figures that they choose, as a rule, without coordination with their colleagues in other similar agencies”. The Russian interior ministry announced on November 30, 2010 that the law enforcement agencies carried out 61 counterterrorist operations that resulted in “neutralizing” 351 rebels, including 32 leaders, 47 rebels were convinced to surrender. 609 terrorist attacks and 74 armed clashes between the rebels and the government forces took place in the North Caucasus in the first 11 months of 2010 (, February 17).

Estimates of rebel strength estimates still vary widely among different government officials. In December 2010, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov even ventured to say that he did not exclude that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, had died and that the rebels had left Chechnya altogether. He later retracted his statement, saying there were 60-80 rebels in the republic. Umarov claimed responsibility for the suicide attack at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on January 24, 2011, which left 36 people killed and over 100 injured. On January 18, 2011, the head of the FSB branch in Ingushetia, Vladimir Gurba, stated that there were 30 rebels left in the republic and they were all known to the FSB (, December 20, 2010). The statement was made a month before the attack at Domodedovo, which was reportedly carried out by Magomed Yevloev, a resident of Ingushetia. The figure for the number of rebels in Kabardino-Balkaria in 2010 was put at 52. The commander of the Russian interior ministry troops, Nikolai Rogozhkin, repeated his estimate that there were 500-800 insurgents in the North Caucasus ( February 17).

According to Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, there are approximately 1,000 rebels in the region and their average age is 18. While Khloponin is busy with drawing up and publicly presenting plans for the economic development of the North Caucasus, the Russian government is quietly increasing its military presence in the region. In the city of Stavropol, the headquarters of the newly-created 49th Russian Army is reportedly being set up. The new army is expected to include two infantry brigades stationed in Maikop (Adygea) and Budennovsk (Stavropol region), two airborne brigades stationed in the cities of Stavropol and Novorossiysk (a Russian port city on the Black Sea coast of Krasnodar region) and a mountain-rifle brigade stationed in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The build-up will presumably thwart terrorist threats coming from the North Caucasus to the Sochi Olympics sites on the Black Sea coast. The airborne brigades may also be used anywhere in the North Caucasus where insurgent activities are particularly threatening (, February 7).

Moscow’s military preparations in the North Caucasus hardly match the scale and type of destabilization occurring in the region. There are no known sizeable military forces on the rebels’ side. The only way for the North Caucasus insurgents to survive under current circumstances is to operate in very small groups that have almost no coordination with each other. So Moscow either expects the hostilities in the North Caucasus, especially the northwestern part, to escalate dramatically or is preparing for the wrong type of war with the wrong kind of forces.