“The leaders of bandit formations plan to carry out several terrorist acts in several republics of the North Caucasus,” Dagestan’s interior minister, Adilgirei Magomedtagirov, told journalists on September 14. But despite the broad statement by Magomedtagirov, who has fully recovered from a recent attempt on his life (see EDM, August 10), security officials are primarily focusing on Dagestan.
Magomedtagirov’s remarks came one day after an urgent meeting of Dagestan’s Anti-Terrorist Center in Makhachkala, the regional capital. He explained that this urgent meeting was needed because of new intelligence suggesting that the North Caucasus insurgents are preparing for an attack. Magomedtagirov added that checkpoints would be set up around Dagestani cities and villages to ward off rebel units. In addition, a group of Russian generals from the Russian Interior Ministry and the military command of the interior forces came to Dagestan to train local security chiefs (RIA-Novosti-Dagestan, September 14).
According to RIA-Novosti, officials believe the cities of Makhachkala, Buinaksk, and Khasavyurt are the most likely targets for a rebel attack, while Dagestani districts such as Untsukul, Buinaksk, Khasavyurt, Karabudakhent, or Nogai are areas where the rebels could concentrate their forces in advance of an attack. These areas comprise half of Dagestan’s territory, and it will not be easy to watch them all at the same time.
The news agency also reported that Nogai district, an area in northern Dagestan where the Nogai minority lives, was singled out for particularly close supervision. Law-enforcement officials have intelligence suggesting that militants from the rebel “Nogai Battalion,” under the command of Takhir Bataev, are concentrating their forces in Nogai district (RIA-Novosti-Dagestan, September 14). According to Radio Liberty, all Nogai villages in the republic are surrounded by police and army special-task units, and more troops are en route to the district (Radio Liberty, September 15).
The Nogai people are the remnants of a once-large ethnic group that settled around Stavropol krai, Dagestan, and Chechnya. The Nogai-populated areas are the most backward and undeveloped in the European part of Russia. Nogai villages lack central heating, gas pipelines, telephones, and hospitals. At the beginning of 2006 the Nogai region was not even covered by a cell-phone network. Prior to recent events, there were few people in Moscow, apart from some historians, who even remembered that the Nogai existed. The people had been virtually forgotten since the Russian Empire conquered and eliminated the Nogai state in the North Caucasus in the 18th century.
Following the first Russian invasion into Chechnya in 1994, the Nogai people organized a guerilla group to support the Chechens, naming it the “Nogai Battalion.” Members of the battalion also took part in the anti-Russian resistance in Chechnya during the early years of the second Chechen war, which began in 1999. Starting 2003, however, the Nogai insurgents became more active not only in Chechnya, but also in Dagestan and especially Stavropol krai. Police and Russian troops were frequently targeted in Nogai district and in Stavropol’s Neftekumsk district. In response, security officials started regular — but ineffective — sweeps of Nogai-populated areas in all three regions. By the beginning of 2006 the Nogai Battalion had become very strong and well organized. In February 2006, heavy fighting occurred between police and the Nogai Battalion in the Nogai village of Tukui-Mektebe in Stavropol krai. There were heavy casualties on both sides (see EDM, February 16).
After the battle in Tukui-Mektebe, Russian authorities realized that something must be done with the Nogai. Guided by advisers from Moscow and coordinated by the Kremlin, local authorities in Stavropol, Chechnya, and Dagestan worked out a program to develop the Nogai-populated areas. Last April Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev visited Nogai district along with members of the republican government to see what could be done to improve living conditions there (RIA-Novosti-Dagestan, April 22). On the eve of his visit, a cell-phone network was established in Nogai district, and one week before the visit Nogai district chief Aslan Mamaev was arrested on corruption charges (RIA-Novosti-Dagestan, April 21).
At the same time, the pro-Russian authorities of Chechnya declared that they also would pay more attention to their Nogai areas. On June 6, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Abdulkhaakir Israilov visited two Nogai villages in Northern Chechnya and promised the locals to build new roads, sport arenas, and other facilities that would make their lives better (RIA-Novosti-Dagestan, June 6).
However, the ethnic Russians in Stavropol do not regard the situation as optimistically as the regional authorities. This summer, during his Internet press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin received several very emotional emails from Russians in the region, begging for his help. “Please, pay attention to the eastern zone of the Stavropol krai,” the residents wrote. “We live here like on a powder keg. Wahhabism [Islamic fundamentalism] is becoming increasingly popular in Nogai villages, people [policemen and civilians] get killed and there is a permanent terrorist threat in the area. Probably very soon it will be impossible to live here. There will be a war here!”(Regnum, July 7).
The latest warnings about a threat from the Nogai Battalion suggest that the authorities are also worried about the situation in the Nogai triangle. However, the only effective thing that they can do now is to send more troops and set up more checkpoints in the Nogai area. There is no doubt that such measures will help to prevent a massive attack, but they will not bring a lasting, stable peace to the region.