Political Chaos Reigns in the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 29

Despite Russia’s failure over the last nine years to put an end to the conflict in the North Caucasus and the continuing political chaos in the region, it is nonetheless attempting to dictate its policies to Georgia. The recent events in the North Caucasus, including simultaneous strikes staged by rebel fighters against the Russian targets, clearly point to an orchestrated surge of the resistance movement, particularly in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia (North Caucasus Weekly, July 17).

Ingushetia, where the government claims life is back to normal—so announced the deputy speaker of Ingushetia’s parliament, Tamara Khautieva, during a special press conference in Moscow on July 2 (http://ingushetiya.ru/news/14694.html)—hosted yet another visit of the Russian president’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Vladimir Ustinov, who came down to show support for Vladimir Putin’s appointee and former Federal Security Service (FSB) colleague, Murat Zyazikov, who is Ingushetia’s president (http://ingushetiya.ru/news/14842.html). Following the old party apparatchik tradition, Ustinov announced that Ingushetia was indeed doing well—a statement that stands in sharp contrast to the startling number of armed incidents that continue to plague this small southern republic.

As for neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, despite the frequent yet isolated attacks targeting the police forces, the series of events do not yet point to an emerging pattern of tactical operations by the local Yarmuk Jamaat, commanded by Amir Seifullah (aka Anzor Astemirov, who is chairman of the North Caucasus insurgency’s Supreme Shariah Court and a top member of the resistance hierarchy).

In Karachaevo-Cherkessia, the news of the assassination of three policemen (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=15487) came as a shock after a long lull without similar reports, which was attributed mainly to the overall weakening of the Karachai Jamaat.

In contrast, rebel activity in Dagestan is forcing the government to conduct continuous anti-terror operations in some villages or areas for months, such as the town of Gimry, where an operation has been going on since last December. Moreover, for the first time in years, reports indicate recent rebel activity in Derbent, the southernmost part of Dagestan, signaling the expansion of the resistance movement across the entire territory of Dagestan, and potentially beyond into adjacent Russian regions and Azerbaijan, whose border towns are populated by the same Dagestani ethnicities (the Lezgin, the Rutul and the Tsakhur).

Reports of rebel operations in Chechnya and Ingushetia have long become a mainstay of the news media, yet both governments are trying their best to maintain the illusion that all is well. The tactic of choice for the governments of Chechnya and Ingushetia is to claim that everything is quiet and that their regions are no different than any other Russian Federation jurisdiction.

As feeble they may be, the attempts by the federal authorities and those in the North Caucasus to play down losses have yielded some results. Russian broadcast media outlets do not report on current events in the region, preferring instead to focus on positive trends to the exclusion of everything else. Information is being suppressed and foreign journalists have been banned from working in the region, except for those who subscribe to Russia’s theory of a stable peace in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

In the meantime, Chechnya’s executive branch decided to dissolve the parliament elected only two-and-a-half years ago (on November 27, 2005). The move was not triggered by parliamentary opposition to the republic’s regime, as might have been the first guess under most circumstances, and as some analysts tried to argue (http://expert.ru/printissues/expert/2008/26/news_apogei_predannosti/). It would have been hard to think of a more cooperative group of lawmakers, and the parliament’s chairman, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, has never missed an opportunity to declare his wholehearted personal devotion to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, whether the circumstances warranted it or not.

Instead, the sole reason for Chechnya’s upcoming parliamentary elections is to get rid of the bicameral form of parliament that in the future will serve as an additional layer of Ramzan Kadyrov’s bureaucracy regardless of the exact headcount and lineup of its members. It is easy to predict that the voter turnout in these so-called elections—in a place where most people never vote—will be 100 percent, as is customary in Chechnya. Although this time, it is likely that very few people will dare ignore the trip to the voting booth and thereby demonstrate their oppositionist mindset, which is why the fall elections will probably attract the highest voter turnout since the beginning of the war. The explanation has nothing to do with the public’s civic awareness or high regard for Ramzan Kadyrov’s policies. Instead, people will be driven to vote by fear of being reported to the authorities and accused of ignoring the elections organized for the personal benefit of Ramzan Kadyrov as well as sympathizing with the rebels—a charge that may not be entirely untrue.

Meanwhile, Russia is moving along with a massive military exercise that is being conducted in the North Caucasus in the immediate proximity of the Georgian border. This multi-phase exercise in the North Caucasus Military District, called “Caucasus 2008” involves the units of the district troops, the Novorossiysk Maritime Base, the Caspian Fleet, the Interior Ministry Internal Troops of the North Caucasus district, the regional coast guard department of the FSB and airborne troops, including the Pskov Division. A total of 8,000 servicemen are reportedly participating (http://regnum.ru/news/1027980.html; North Caucasus Weekly, July 17). The drill will cover Krasnodar and Stavropol krais, the Astrakhan, Volgograd and Rostov oblasts, the republics of North Ossetia/Alania, Ingushetia and Dagestan, as well as the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the Chechen Republic, and will be led by Colonel General Sergei Makarov. The reported number of participating troops and the area covered by the drill seem suspiciously very low. Clearly, the timing of the drill “just happened” to coincide with unrest in Georgia: what other explanation could there be for stationing airborne troops in the Roki Pass in North Ossetia near the Russian-Georgian border? Moscow’s goal is to put psychological pressure on Tbilisi, as well as use the opportunity to practice, and perhaps use force against the region’s rebel forces.

Overall, one is tempted to agree with Grigory Shvedov, editor-in-chief of Kavkazsky Uzel website, which monitors developments in the North Caucasus, who believes that it would not be unwarranted to say today that Russia has lost control over the situation in the region (http://voanews.com/russian/2008-07-14-voa10.cfm). Today the North Caucasus lives by its own laws and customs, which are different from the rest of Russia. In an attempt to balance the situation, Moscow turned the region over to the local elites, hoping that they will be able to take control, but what the Kremlin got in exchange was a region ruled by chaos and dozens of conflicts that give the government no chance to appeal to the facts. This is why we can look forward to a long stretch of propaganda claiming that the troubled North Caucasus region is in fact one of the most peaceful regions in Russia.