Putin on North Caucasus: Situation Improved but “Far From Good”

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 41

President Vladimir Putin said on October 18 during his annual question-and-answer session on state television that a rise in violence in Ingushetia is alarming but cannot be compared to the 1999 rebel insurgency that triggered the invasion of Chechnya, Reuters reported. “The situation is far from being considered good,” Putin said of the upsurge in violence in Ingushetia while answering a question posed by a man from a village in Dagestan. “But compared with 1999 the situation has changed fundamentally.” He added: “There are alarming factors. Incursions happen and people are dying. The federal center will take action, including permanently stationing our forces there.” Putin said during the Q&A that the situation in the North Caucasus has improved since the 1990s thanks mainly to the attitude of the “residents themselves,” Itar-Tass reported on October 18. “You should pay attention to what has happened in the Chechen Republic,” he said. “There are no acute situations because people are tired of confrontation and bloodshed. People returned to normal life. I hope that we’ll achieve the same goal in other regions … We’ll succeed in settling the situation in other regions of the North Caucasus.” Itar-Tass also quoted Putin as calling the creation of jobs a “key task” for the North Caucasus.

On October 18, the day that Putin’s televised Q&A took place, gunmen opened fire at a police car just outside Magas, Ingushetia’s capital, killing four federal police officers. The Associated Press quoted Ingushetia’s prosecutor’s office as saying that two officers died at the scene and two succumbed later to their wounds, while a fifth policeman who was also in the car was unhurt. Russian news agencies reported that the incident took in the village of Ekazhevo and that the four victims were policemen from Arkhangelsk Oblast who had been deployed to Ingushetia. The separatist Kavkaz Center website on October 18 posted an item on the attack reporting that “mujahideen of the Ingush sector of the Caucasus Front” had successfully carried out a “special operation” targeting a car carrying “Russian kaffirs [infidels] from Arkhangelsk.” According to Kavkaz Center, four policemen were killed and two wounded in the attack.

On October 19, two ethnic Ingush were shot dead in the North Ossetian village of Chermen. Prague Watchdog reported on October 20 that the incident occurred at around 11 p.m., local time, the previous day, when gunmen fired from a car on a group of young males standing on one of the village’s streets. North Ossetia-Alania’s deputy interior minister, Soslan Sikoyev, said that investigators were looking into “several different versions” of the incident, while an unnamed employee in Ingushetia’s prosecutor’s office said that “not a single crime committed against citizens of Ingush nationality on territory controlled by the North Ossetian authorities has yet been solved.” Prague Watchdog noted that Chermen is located in North Ossetia’s disputed Prigorodny district very close to the administrative border with Ingushetia and that just outside the village “there is a notorious checkpoint at a place called Chermensky Krug.”

In Dagestan, an explosion that went off in a minibus on October 23, which injured eight passengers, was triggered by an 18-year-old woman carrying an explosive device. On October 25, the Moscow Times quoted Saidula Badalov, the lead investigator into the explosion, saying that an F-1 hand grenade that the woman, identified as Sidrat Gasanbekova, was carrying in her bag accidently went off and that investigators found no evidence linking Gasanbekova to any rebel groups in the North Caucasus. Russian news agencies had originally described the blast, which took place just after the minibus passed a police checkpoint in the village of Dylym, some 10 kilometers east of the border with Chechnya, as a suicide bombing. In a separate incident that took place later on October 23, a roadside bomb detonated in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, injuring two people in a taxi that was driving by when the blast took place. On October 24, a man was shot dead after he threw a grenade at police officers who were searching his house in the village of Gurbuki, in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkent district. None of the police officers was hurt.

Meanwhile, on October 20, one policeman was killed and two others wounded in a shooting attack on a police car in the Oktyabrsky district of Grozny, the Chechen capital, RIA Novosti reported. On October 21, Newsru.com reported that a policeman was wounded in a similar attack in Grozny’s Leninsky district on October 16. The website noted that the situation in Chechnya was unsettled, with a significant gunfight having taken place on October 9 between some 20 rebels and Interior Ministry forces near the village of Zhani-Vedeno in the republic’s Vedeno district, resulting in the loss of one serviceman (Chechnya Weekly, October 11). “The Chechen authorities say that the situation with gang formations is under their control; this, however, is far from the reality,” Newsru.com wrote. “At the same time, in September, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov offered his help in imposing order in neighboring Ingushetia, where attacks by militants on peaceful citizens and policemen have become regular of late” (Chechnya Weekly, September 13).