May and early June brought intensified rebel attacks in Dagestan. On June 1, a bus carrying 20 policemen was bombed in Makhachkala, the capital (RIA-Novosti, June 1). Almost every night police patrols in the city are bombed, and the ambushes have recently spread to Khasavyurt. Two senior police officers were killed in the town of Buinaksk. The Russian authorities now realize that the local police are unable to stop the violence. Many officers have begun to resign; up to 1,500 policemen applied for early retirement this year in Buinaksk alone (grani.ru, June 8).
Meanwhile, the insurgency is gaining more and more new militants all the time. Dagestan Minister of Internal Affairs Adilgirey Magomedtagirov reports said that young Dagestanis are joining the rebel ranks “in groups of 2-3 or 10-15 men” (Vremya novostei, June 21).
In response, the Kremlin has decided to send more troops to the republic. Around 4,000 members of security forces from adjacent Russian regions have been brought in to help local police deal with the insurgents, according to officials (grani.ru, June 8). The troops have started a large-scale mopping-up operation throughout the region. Police special-task units, Ministry of Internal Affairs troops, and even the units from the Russian army are conducting house-to-house searches. These operations are underway in Makhachkala, Khasavurt, Buinaksk, Kyzlar, and some mountain districts like Botlikh and Tsumada (newsru.com, June 12).
Almost all experts have to admit that the situation in Dagestan now is much worse than it was in August 1999, when radical Muslims from Chechnya invaded Dagestan. At that time the majority of Dagestanis entirely supported the efforts of the Russian forces to fend off the invaders. However, six years later, the mood of the population has changed dramatically. Many more people now sympathize with the Islamic separatists and their allies in Chechnya.
“In 1999, after the Chechen invasion, a campaign of arrests of Wahhabis [Islamic fundamentalists] was initiated by the security officials in Dagestan. At the beginning people tried to accept such measures, but the siloviki tasted money. They started to detain innocent people accusing them of terrorist activities. They were released for bribes paid by relatives,” says Abdull-Rashid Saidov, leader of the Islamic-Democratic Party of Dagestan. “Starting from the year 2000, the number of such cases increased significantly. The detainees were tortured and heavily beaten. The people in Dagestan came to hate the authorities, especially people dressed in police uniforms” (grani.ru, June 8). Saidov believes that the strongest motivation for people to go underground is to revenge their humiliation and suffering.
Another reason is corruption within the local government. “Since the early 1990s, young people in Dagestan have been more and more interested in Wahhabism. People see this religious ideology as an alternative to the corrupted ruling regime,” says Asey Amirova, a journalist from Makhachkala. “Very often one can see a young woman wearing a khidjab [a traditional Muslim kerchief for women] on the streets of Makhachkala. At the same time, young men join the ranks of radical rebels. The youth believe that radical Islam can solve the economic and social problems in the republic.”
The Kremlin decision to support the unpopular chairman of Dagestan’s State Council, Magomed Magomedov, will likely increase the ranks of locals who want to attack policemen out of anger and frustration. Magomedov turned 75 on June 15. Many in Dagestan hoped that Russian President Vladimir Putin would announce his successor that day, but no new appointment was made. “The Kremlin retreated at the last moment, scared by a possible domino effect, unpredictable consequences of the change in the ethnic and political balance in the republic if Magomedov resigns,” says Nabi Abdulaev, a journalist from Dagestan. In fact, Moscow’s support for Magomedov could play into the hands of the separatists, as many Dagestanis see him as the personification of corruption.
Ethnic tensions are another problem in the republic. Being a Dargin, Magomedov favors representatives from this ethnic group. For example, as Amirova says, it is very difficult for non-Dargins to find a prestigious job in Makhachkala.
Young men like the fact that the Islamists and rebels do not care about ethnic origins. Internal Affairs Minister Magomedtagirov says, “The Chechens, the Avars, and others join the rebels and the latter do not care where you came from. Religion is the only factor that is important to them” (Vremya novostei, June 21).
“One cannot have a barefaced approach to the problems of Dagestan,” says Anatoly Safonov, Putin’s advisor on fighting terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. A thorough action plan should be developed. There is no fast solution to the problem” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 16).
Russian General Uriy Netkachev, a former army commander in the North Caucasus, told Nezavisimaya gazeta that only by increasing the strength of army troops in the region could Moscow restore order in Dagestan. “Religious fanatics understand only the language of force,” he advised (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 6).
It seems that the Kremlin does not know what to do in Dagestan and makes the easiest decisions, such as sending more troops and establishing new military bases. Nevertheless, the easiest decisions are not always the correct ones.