On January 8, Russian authorities introduced a counter-terrorist operation regime in two southern districts of the Stavropol region. The move was in response to earlier incidents, in which police found four cars with five slain people in them (http://ria.ru/defense_safety/20140108/988277304.html). The number of people found murdered was later updated to six (http://www.gazeta.ru/social/news/2014/01/09/n_5864805.shtml). An improvised explosive device (IED) detonated as the police arrived at the scene of the crime, but no one was hurt in the blast. An unexploded IED was also reportedly defused at the site. The murders took place in Stavropol’s Predgorny district, which borders Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria, and the Kirovsky district, which shares an administrative border with Kabardino-Balkaria (http://itar-tass.com/politika/875947).
The murders in Stavropol region were immediately linked to the North Caucasian insurgency. The authorities named three suspects who may be involved in the killings—33-year-old Anzor Margushev, 25-year-old Vadim Shogenov and 24-year-old Artur Margushev. All three come from Kabardino-Balkaria. Earlier, on October 29, 2013, the same people were reportedly involved in killing a hunter in the area of the administrative border between Stavropol region and Kabardino-Balkaria (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/236425/). It is unclear, however, whether these individuals were indeed behind the attack or if the authorities simply declared them to be such because they were desperate to find the perpetrators of the crime quickly.
Unlike the twin bomb attacks in Volgograd at the end of December 2013, the sites of the attacks in Stavropol region are much closer to Sochi, where the Winter Olympics will be held, which is in the Krasnodar region. Stavropol and Krasnodar regions share an administrative border, so not surprisingly the recent killings prompted the Russian government to step up security in the area. The police announced that one of the main theories about the motives for the murders in Stavropol is that insurgents took revenge against cab drivers who had refused to give them extortion payments. However, both private and organized cab drivers in the Stavropol region told the Kavkazsky Uzel website that they had not experienced such problems. It was also reported that insurgents pretending to be police officers stopped cars and checked documents, killing some and letting others go (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/236425/).
On December 27, a bomb explosion in the largest city in the southern part of Stavropol region, Pyatigorsk, killed three passersby. The blast took place near the building of the Road Police Department. Despite the casualties, the authorities failed to register the explosion as a terrorist attack: the security services apparently wanted to play down its importance (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/236450/). The explosives that caused the blast were inside a car and the power of the explosion was estimated at 50 kilograms of TNT. On January 10, the Russian National Antiterrorist Committee (NAK) reported that six suspects had been arrested and during a preliminary investigation these people confessed to the crime and also to preparations for a larger terrorist attack (http://www.interfax.ru/russia/txt/350911).
The names of the suspects in the Pyatigorsk blast suggested that they probably were of Dagestani origin, although it remains to be seen whether these people were actually involved in the attack. Normally in the North Caucasus, police kill suspected insurgents at the time of arrest, and it is very unusual for the police to arrest and prosecute militants in a regular legal way. The fact that these six individuals were captured may mean that police arrested random people of “high risk nationality” to demonstrate the ability of the government agencies to do their job well.
The Russian government’s measures to prevent the infiltration of North Caucasian insurgents into Krasnodar region have been successful so far, even though they did not prevent terrorist attacks elsewhere in the country. Part of the success of the Russian security services is explained by the broad-brush approach the government has taken to security around Sochi. The Security Council of Ingushetia has “recommended” that residents of the republic not visit Krasnodar unless there is an “urgent need” (http://tvrain.ru/articles/zhiteljam_ingushetii_ne_rekomendujut_ezdit_v_krasnodarskij_kraj_v_preddverii_olimpiady-360191/).
Kaloy Akhilgov, ex-spokesman of the head of Ingushetia, wrote that the stringent controls over visiting Krasnodar region cover residents of Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. According to Akhilgov, if residents of Ingushetia’s resident want to visit Krasnodar region during the Olympics, they get permission from the republican Security Council, which will then forward the applicant’s documents to Krasnodar, where it will be decided whether or not the individual will be granted permission to visit Krasnodar region. “Otherwise, they will just turn you back at the border with Krasnodar region without explanation,” an official reportedly told Akhilgov (https://www.facebook.com/ahikaloy/posts/10201485271279334). Ingushetia’s Security Council played down the importance of their statements, saying that they were “recommending” people not visit Krasnodar region without need because of the heightened security and long lines along the administrative borders (http://www.kp.ru/daily/26179/3068785/).
The series of incidents in Stavropol region indicate the Russian security services’ level of preparedness to provide public safety is surprisingly low, especially given the fact that the threat of terrorism has been present in the region for so many years. Despite heightened security following the terrorist attack in Pyatigorsk, militants still managed to kill people in the Stavropol region on January 8, and even were even able to escape without being spotted. Recent attacks may reflect a broader problem inside the Russian security services that deal with the terrorist threat. Government forces are relatively well trained to kill suspected terrorists, but their skills in protecting civilians and providing public safety more generally still appear to remain underdeveloped.