Putin Pays a Surprise Visit to Botlikh

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 5

President Vladimir Putin made an unexpected trip to Botlikh, Dagestan, on February 4. The town, which is located near the republic’s border with Chechnya, is where the Russian Defense Ministry’s 33rd Motorized Infantry Highland Brigade has been deployed since last year under a decree that Putin signed in 2006. Putin first visited Botlikh as prime minister in August 1999, in the wake of fighting in the area between federal troops and forces loyal to rebel commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab that had crossed over from Chechnya. Newsru.com reported that while in Botlikh, Putin held a meeting attended by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, Federal Security Security (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, Health and Social Development Leader Tatyana Golikova, Transport Minister Igor Levtin, Education Minister Andrei Fursenko and Gazprom head Aleksei Miller, along with Dzhafar Ramazonov, who heads the Botlikh district administration, and Magomed Khamilov, chief of administration of Dagestan’s Tsumadinsky district.

According to The Associated Press, Russian state television showed Putin speaking to soldiers of the 33rd Motorized Infantry Highland Brigade. Putin said the troops and other security forces in the area must “maintain close contact with the local population,” the news agency reported. “In the end, everything we do, whether in the sphere of security or economic development, is for the sake of the people—otherwise, it’s meaningless,” he said. Putin also ordered Gazprom to speed up work to run natural gas lines into the Botlikh and Tsumadinsky districts, Itar-Tass reported.

During his meeting with federal and Dagestani officials, Putin, among other things, ordered Levtin and the Dagestani authorities to consider proposals for further construction of a road that passes through Dagestan’s Botlikh and Tsumadinsky districts. “I’ve seen that road,” Prime-Tass quoted Putin as saying. “It is 130 kilometers long and only 30 [kilometers] have been paved with asphalt. But if you simply pave it with asphalt, that is insufficient: there is heavy military equipment there and, if it passes through there one time, the local residents will no longer be able to use it [the road].” According to Prime-Tass, Levtin said work on the road is already underway and should be completed by 2010, adding that it would take that long because of the difficulty of the work involved, including the building and strengthening of a tunnel. “We will return to the subject in Moscow,” Putin told Levtin, Prime-Tass reported. “You, together with the Defense Ministry and the Dagestani authorities, will prepare what we are now discussing in the form of notes.”

Referring to Levtin’s preliminary estimate that the road will cost three billion rubles [over $120 million] to build, Putin said the funds need to be found. Putin added that while the cost was significant, “the local population and the brigade must not be forgotten about—since we already sent it [the brigade] there, it needs to be supplied. The road goes through Tsumadinsky district, which borders Georgia. It can be one more corridor going into Georgia.”

Putin also handed out awards to Dagestani officials. He conferred an “Order of Honor” on Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev, a “For Service to the Fatherland” medal on Colonel Eldar Gdzhiev, head of the republic’s operational department of the FSB’s border directorate, and other awards and presidential watches to members of local militia who battled Basaev/Khattab-led insurgents in 1999.

Meanwhile, members of Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights and relatives of kidnapping victims held a two-hour anti-kidnapping demonstration in downtown Makhachkala on February 6, Kavkazky Uzel reported. The leader of Dagestani Mothers for Human Rights, Gyulnara Rustamova, said that unidentified armed people had kidnapped 22-year-old Zhabir Kamaludinov on January 30 and that his friend, 25-year-old Shamil Omarov, disappeared the following day. Relatives of the two men, who worked in a mobile phone store in Makhachkala, are convinced they were kidnapped by members of “power structures.”

Two unidentified gunmen shot and seriously wounded a policeman in the city of Khasavyurt on February 6, Kavkazky Uzel reported.