Moscow Promises North Caucasus Billions, as Low-Grade Insurgency Continues

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 155

Having failed to re-conquer the North Caucasus using force or realized the high price to be paid for such a conquest, Moscow is attempting to deprive regional nationalists and religious radicals of their social base of support by providing additional financial infusions.

In the process of conquering the Caucasus in the nineteenth century, Russia expected the region to become a revenue source for the Russian treasury. However, Russia ended up with a volatile region that always required both extra funding to maintain its loyalty and the presence of a multitude of police and military forces. Therefore, the position of Russian nationalists, who oppose subsidizing the North Caucasus, regarding it as a lost cause, is understandable. On July 25, the Russian ministry for regional development unveiled plans to invest $140 billion in the North Caucasus over 2012-2025 (, August 1). It appeared, however, that the stated funding was not approved by the Russian finance ministry, which regarded the plan as a threat to Russian economic stability because it required the raising of taxes (, August 1). Discrepancies between federal ministries –the ministry for economic development, the ministry for finance and the ministry for regional development– show the federal government’s weak understanding of its North Caucasus policies (, August 1).

All of this fits into the realities of the North Caucasus reasonably well. For example, according to the Russian government’s development program, Moscow plans to allot the largest chunk of money for Dagestan. This is not surprising, since Dagestan poses the primary threat to the interests of Russia in the region. By diverting more money to Dagestan, Moscow is simply trying to substitute the real problem of the spread of radical Islam with the problem of unemployment and its solution. Moscow is even prepared to provide 100 percent guarantees to foreign financiers, but it is hard to convince businesses to invest in the region, where just during the first six months of 2011 law enforcement agencies have suffered 352 dead and wounded, 128 of them in Dagestan alone (, July 25). The rebels in Dagestan, in their turn, suffered losses (220 of them were either killed or arrested in the same period of time) while 129 civilians were killed or wounded in the struggle between the militants and law enforcement. Thus a total 477 people were killed or wounded during the first six months of this year, which means a rate of two to three persons dying every day.

The special operation in the city of Dagestanskie Ogni on July 24 was the most notorious recent operation against the militants. Dagestanskie Ogni is situated 118 kilometers from Makhachkala toward Derbent on the Caspian Sea. The authorities announced they had killed three rebel suspects, including 25 year-old Mekhtibek Bashirov, 21 year-old Inna Cherenkova, 28 year-old Islamudin Guseinov, during the operation, and captured 22 year-old Zagra Kadimagomedova, who was wounded. Witnesses at the scene of the operation refuted the official version, stating that, contrary to what the authorities claimed, no explosives had been found. This statement took the government by surprise, as they had announced they had prevented a terrorist attack in the central part of Russia (, July 25). Human rights activists discovered that the slain Cherenkova had come from Stavropol and that she cried for help after she was injured and was not wearing any kind of a suicide bomber belt, as law enforcement officials reported after the operation (, July 26). It appears she may have been a random victim of the police operation.

This event would not have caused such a reaction if the militants, Emir Salikh and his associates, had not communicated a prior warning to the head of Dagestan and the police chiefs using back channels. The militants warned that if government forces were to kill their wives and children, the militants would also renounce their principles and start killing the wives and children of law enforcement officials, politicians and religious figures (, June 14). This will lead to new casualties among the civilian population above all. Another feature of this special operation that should be noted is the increasing numbers of Russian converts to Islam. The slain Inna Cherenkova had an Islamic name – Mariam. It has become a fact of life that the Dagestani jamaat has turned into a multiethnic jamaat that also involves Slavs (, July 25).

Without going into details of attacks, shootouts and explosions carried out by the militants in late July, another notorious murder should be noted. Garun Kurbanov, the spokesman for Dagestani head Magomedsalam Magomedov, was the target of an attack and died of his wounds. Kurbanov also held the position of Dagestan’s minister for nationalities, and was the third minister for nationalities killed in the republic in the last eight years. He took the position in Dagestani presidential administration in 2010 after Magomedov became the republic’s leader (, July 28). There was little doubt over who killed Kurbanov and why: he was known in the republic as an atheist rather than a Muslim. In Dagestan, where Islam has played a primary role in society for a long time, a politician with atheist views was doomed from the very start. But there was also a non-personal motive. As director of the information policy department in the Dagestani presidential administration, Kurbanov was responsible for Magomedsalam Magomedov’s ideological policy, thus Kurbanov’s murder was also a blow to the head of Dagestan. This was also the first time that militants in Dagestan had been able to assassinate someone so close to the Dagestani president.

In addition the murder took place the same time an economic forum opened in Makhachkala aimed at showing the republic in a positive light. The same day Kurbanov was killed, July 28, the acting head of the village of Upper Ubeki in Dagestan’s Levashi district, Rabadan Omarov, was shot dead, and three other people were gunned down in Makhachkala. Such attacks will do little to help to improve Dagestan’s image in the eyes of potential investors, and the situation in this republic is unlikely to change drastically in the near future.