On August 11, the counterterrorism operation regime in effect in Kabardino-Balkaria was partially lifted. The suburbs of the republican capital Nalchik – Khasanya, Belaya Rechka and Volny Aul – along with several nearby settlements in the Chegem district were officially taken off of the counterterrorism operation regime list. However, the mountainous parts of the republic – the Elbrus and Baksan districts – remained under the special regime. As recently as July 19, Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Minister Sergei Vasiliev defended the counterterrorism regime’s validity, stating that “despite eliminating the top leaders of the armed underground, raids by the militants continued and the situation remained extremely tense.” Moscow introduced the special regime in Kabardino-Balkaria in February of this year after a group of tourists from Moscow were murdered in the republic (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, August 11).
The counterterrorism regime has mostly symbolic and psychological meaning in the North Caucasus. The virtual absence of public oversight over police’s actions allows law enforcement to undertake practically any actions it deems necessary, even without a special regime. News about kidnappings, extralegal killings and other breaches of human rights come from parts of the North Caucasus that are not often subject to counterterrorism operation regimes.
The security services explained that the counterterrorism regime had helped to “eliminate” the leaders of the armed underground in Kabardino-Balkaria. Indeed, on April 29, the Russian security services killed 10 people, including several of the most notorious leaders of the insurgency in this republic, including as Kazbek Tashuev, Aker Jappuev, Ratmir Shameyev and others. These insurgents, however, were not killed in Kabardino-Balkaria, but in the neighboring Russian-speaking region of Stavropol. The law enforcement agencies announced that during the counterterrorism regime in Kabardino-Balkaria they had managed to disrupt the work of three laboratories for producing improvised explosive devices and confiscated 20 kilograms of explosives, along with 70 IEDs and thousands of rounds of ammunition (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, August 11).
The logic behind the counterterrorism operation regime in Kabardino-Balkaria may be far more complicated than it appears at first blush. This republic is the largest of the Circassian-populated territories in the North Caucasus and therefore is the most likely potential source of problems for Moscow, which is promoting the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. The Circassians worldwide, and increasingly in the North Caucasus, are calling on Moscow to recognize Russia’s genocidal actions against their ancestors in the 1860s and afterwards, and to take action to alleviate the consequences of the Russian empire’s wars. So, one of the possible ways for Moscow to keep the North Caucasian Circassians in check would be to distract them with an ongoing counterterrorism operation in Kabardino-Balkaria and a low key civil war of limited geographic scope that would bog the Circassian activists down with the problems in this republic.
This probably in part explains why government forces are so prepared to escalate the level of conflict in Kabardino-Balkaria, using military aircraft and other heavy weaponry. On July 29, following the July 27 killing of Amurbek Bitokhov, the deputy head of the police in Kabardino-Balkaria’s Urvan district, the Russian security services used military helicopters to track down Bitokhov’s killers. The real meaning of using aircraft for a police operation was likely not to locate someone – in Bitokhov’s case no one was actually tracked down – but to impress or perhaps even terrorize the local population (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 29).
Bolstered by Circassian activism worldwide and the recent recognition of the Circassian genocide by Georgia, Circassian activists in the North Caucasus are extending their reach. On August 11, the Gazeta Yuga newspaper, which is published in Nalchik, reported that a delegation of Circassian activist visited Sochi and Yasnaya Polyana to mark the 150th anniversary of the first historically known Circassian parliament. The participants in the action adopted an appeal to the Circassian-populated territories of the North Caucasus and civil organizations. Hailing the “first parliament and government of independent Circassia,” the appeal emphasized that the Circassians of that period had “made their existence known on the international stage, aspiring to the status of a subject of international law.” The president of the International Circassian Association, Kanoshbi Azhakhov, said in an interview with Gazeta Yuga that Circassians expect Moscow to allow and facilitate repatriation of the Circassians whose ancestors were deported from the North Caucasus (https://gazetayuga.ru/archive/number/obs.htm).
It is interesting that even fairly mild Circassian organizations like the International Circassian Association have become much bolder in voicing their demands and expectations following the explosion of Circassian activism and Georgia’s recognition this past May of the Circassian genocide.
The Circassians have recently acquired what may be one of the most unlikely allies – Belarus. Someone named Sergei Navoev made his debut as an ardent Circassian supporter with an article extremely critical of Russia’s actions in the Circassian lands, asserting that the Circassian genocide is not a thing of the past, but an ongoing process of Moscow attempting to wipe out the Circassian language, culture and people. In a moving ending to his article, Navoev stated that he was born into a Circassian family, but brought up in Belarus after his parents were killed when he was still an infant. Navoev wrote that his new calling in life was a “mass publisher of Circassian literature in Belarus” (https://www.elot.ru/main/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2496&Itemid=1).
While the identity of this person remains unclear, if in fact the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka should be behind this supporter of the Circassian cause, it adds additional intrigue to the already complicated relations between Russia and Belarus, as well as adding another unexpected ally to the Circassian cause.