Repression in North Caucasus is Feeding the Ranks of the Rebels

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 41

Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said during a visit to Chechnya on October 27 that 200 rebel fighters have been captured and four rebel gangs have been destroyed in the republic since the start of the year. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported on October 28, Nurgaliev said the situation in the North Caucasus remains difficult but that the law-enforcement agencies are keeping it under control.

Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov, for his part, said on October 29 that 46 militants have been killed and 276 arrested in Chechnya in the first nine months of this year, with four “illegal armed formations” eliminated during the same period. According to RIA Novosti, Alkhanov said that 70 militants voluntarily surrendered and that the total number of crimes committed in Chechnya decreased by 21.8 percent compared with the same period last year. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov praised the work of the republic’s Interior Ministry. “Dozens of operations, which resulted in the elimination of illegal armed formations, prove that the Interior Ministry of the republic has learnt how to take preventive measures,” RIA Novosti quoted Kadyrov as saying.

As the news agency noted, Kadyrov said earlier this year that “the counterterrorism operation in the region has been completed and today we are fighting criminal elements in the Republic of Chechnya.” Indeed, Kadyrov said in January that all that remains of Chechnya’s rebels are a few dozen “devils” running around the republic’s mountains—a number that would not appear to square with the figures of 276 rebels arrested and 46 killed in the first nine months of this year given by Kadyrov’s interior minister.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta correspondent Vladimir Mukhin noted that around 10 law-enforcement/military servicemen and officials have been killed so far this month in Chechnya, and that, according to open information, around 25 terrorist acts have been committed and at least 40 law-enforcement staff and servicemen of the Russian interior and defense ministries have been killed in the North Caucasus this month alone. According to Mukhin, 66 Russian servicemen were killed during the Russian-Georgia conflict in August. “But that was a real war,” he wrote. “And in the North Caucasus, siloviki and officials are losing their lives mainly as a result of landmines, bombs, snipers ‘work’ [and] surprise ‘behind-the-back’ attacks by militants.”

Meanwhile, Kavkazky Uzel said on October 27 quoting the Memorial human rights group as saying in a report presented during a meeting between European Union representatives and Russian human rights activists in Paris on October 20 that 29 militants were killed and 75 wounded in Ingushetia while 33 militants were killed and 70 wounded in Chechnya in June-August of this year. According to Memorial, the law-enforcement and security structures of both republics suffered losses similar to those two years ago, when the late rebel warlord Shamil Basaev was active, and the total number of losses in tiny Ingushetia for the first time exceeded the number of losses in Chechnya.

Kavkazky Uzel wrote that while the Russian defense and interior ministries claim the rebels have stepped up activities in Ingushetia and Dagestan because they have been forced out of Chechnya, Memorial says in its report that a local militant underground has emerged in these republics, in no small measure due to the actions of the republics siloviki. The report says that over the last half a year, security forces have shown a preference for summarily executing suspected militants captured during special operations—in many cases, according to witnesses, even when the suspects offer no resistance. In addition, law-enforcement officers sometimes plant weapons on slain suspected militants in front of witnesses. According to Memorial, relatives of those killed then join the rebels in order to get revenge on law-enforcement personnel.

The Memorial report also cites an increase in the number of kidnappings in Chechnya since May of this year, Kavkazky Uzel reported. While before June 2007 many of those kidnapped in Chechnya and Dagestan simply disappeared, nowadays they are typically found by relatives in a police office or remand prison. By this time, however, the abducted person has “confessed” under torture to a terrorist-related crime, the Memorial report states. Another tendency since this summer has been attacks on and persecution of groups that speak openly about rights violations in the North Caucasus. According to Memorial, the Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights, which publicizes kidnapping, torture and falsified criminal investigations and has called on the authorities to investigate and punish those responsible, has been the target of a smear campaign, as has the newspaper Chernovik.

According to Memorial, the Chechen authorities, despite claims to the contrary, have been unable to suppress armed resistance completely and the essentially totalitarian system built in the republic has created a “protest mood” among young people. The authorities, meanwhile, have found a new way to act against relatives of those they accuse of being militants: they burn down their houses (North Caucasus Weekly, October 16). Memorial says it knows of 17 such cases that took place this past summer.

Kavkazky Uzel quoted Memorial staffer Aleksandr Cherkasov that the situation in Ingushetia is bordering on being a civil war, pitting Ingush siloviki against those who have declared a vendetta against them.