Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 28

President Putin said on July 19 that the attack in Znameskoe showed the need to step up security and military protection on the Russian border in the North Caucasus, which borders Georgia and Azerbaijan. “Considering the recent developments in Chechnya, we must implement everything that has been planned as soon as possible,” RIA Novosti quoted him as saying. “I am asking the government and the Finance Ministry to allocate the planned resources as they are required,” President Putin told his cabinet, specifically instructing Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref to “make any necessary adjustments to these plans, so the tasks can be fulfilled as quickly as possible.”

During a trip to southern Russia last week, Putin stressed the need to enhance security in the North Caucasus, particularly Dagestan, which has seen a sharp increase in attacks on police, military and security personnel, including the July 1 bombing in the capital, Makhachkala, that killed eleven Interior Ministry commandos (see Chechnya Weekly, July 7, 14). “We will strengthen our position in Dagestan,” the Associated Press quoted Putin as saying on July 14 during a visit with security officials and border guards near the southern city of Astrakhan. “We are aware of the local situation, so we should and will resolve this problem.” Putin visited Dagestan on July 15, telling his top ministers and the Dagestani leadership during a visit to a new special-purpose FSB center in Makhachkala that while much has been done in recent years in the North Caucasus and southern Russia to fight crime and terrorism, the situation “remains fairly complex.” “This is understandable,” he said in remarks carried by Rossiya TV. “Unemployment problems remain unresolved, certain welfare issues remain unresolved and, apart from everything else, the issue of the border has not been settled. The southern border of Russia must be reliably protected.”

Meanwhile, the number of Interior Ministry Internal Troops in the North Caucasus will be “significantly increased” in the coming months, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on July 13, adding that the federal Interior Ministry will fully take command of the military operation in Chechnya before next year. “In response to the actions of militants in Chechnya, Dagestan and other regions of the North Caucasus, the federal center is preparing coercive counter-measures bound up with the further militarization of the entire region,” wrote Nezavisimaya gazeta correspondent Vladimir Mukhin. “The sweep and essence of the reorganization is such that it can indicate preparations for warfare on a scale that federal forces previously had no reason to conduct.” However, Mukhin, concluded the article by saying that experts believe that increasing troop strength in the region is unlikely to improve the situation cardinally. “Along with coercive measures, evidently, other measures are needed – political, economic and social. But for the time being preference is given to the coercive,” he wrote.

An article published on the website of the newspaper Gazeta, gzt.ru, on July 19 stated that the Kremlin could impose direct rule over the North Caucasus sometime this year. The website reported that the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, is urging the State Duma to pass amendments to take away economic independence from those Russian regions which depend upon the federal authorities for 70-80 percent of their revenues. Among these are Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. According to gzt.ru, the federal commission to coordinate the work of federal agencies in the Southern Federal District, which was set up following the Beslan terrorist attack and is headed by Kozak, held a meeting on July 18 devoted to the situation in Dagestan. During the meeting, commission members focused on the role played by high levels of corruption and poverty in Dagestan in creating fertile soil there for terrorism. The website quoted Kozak as saying that the level of political independence of regions should depend upon their degree of independence from federal subsidies.

Suleiman Uladiev, a deputy in Dagestan’s People’s Assembly, told gzt.ru that he supported the “Kozak variant.” “It is possibly the only way to get rid of embezzlement of public funds, bribe-taking, corruption and even terrorism, because one of the reasons for terror in the republic is the struggle for power,” he said.

Nezavisimaya gazeta on July 20 quoted an unnamed Kremlin administration official as saying that the imposition of direct federal control over the North Caucasus might include the naming of finance ministers and economic ministers for some regional governments. The newspaper also reported that after Kozak delivered his report on the catastrophic situation in the North Caucasus (see Chechnya Weekly, June 22), he received “carte blanche in the battle against corruption in the power structures.”