Russia No Longer Controls the Situation in Dagestan

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 10

The events taking place in the largest North Caucasian republic raise serious questions about the degree of control that the local authorities—and primarily the law enforcement agencies led by Dagestani Interior Minister General Lieutenant Adilgirei Magomedtagirov—have over the situation on the ground.

Early on March 5, 2009, a field operational meeting of the heads of law enforcement agencies from the northern regions of the Republic of Dagestan (the entire republic is divided into several operational zones) was held in Kizlyar. At this meeting, Magomedtagirov harshly criticized the law enforcement agencies in charge of that operational zone because of its weak record with regard to the prophylactic struggle against terrorism (RIA Dagestan, March 6). Magomed Daudov, the deputy mufti of Dagestan, made an appeal emphasizing that “the spread of moral and true religious values” can become a barrier to the spread of terrorism.

According to sources in the occupation authorities, there was an armed clash this past week in the Sergokalinsky district of Dagestan. The police stated that as a result of a “mopping up” operation, a dug-out of militants had been discovered. One militant died in the ensuing shootout. There were no reports about police casualties. It is likely that the slain militant (identified by the authorities as 44-year-old resident of Dagestan’s Kayakentsky district, Magomedshakir Magomedov) opened fire to cover the retreat of his comrades-in-arms. According to a press release issued by Dagestan’s Interior Ministry, the dead militant was a member of the Izberbash-based jamaat’s sabotage detachment (Rosbalt, March 14).

Last month, a working group of Dagestan’s Anti-Terrorist and Anti-Narcotics Commission held a meeting with youth in Khasavyurt (a large town and district center in Dagestan, which is located on the administrative border with Chechnya and where several tens of thousand of ethnic Chechens reside). The meeting’s emphasis was on “saving” youth from the influence of people with weapons, which meant the armed underground resistance.

The authorities are justified in their panic because the strikes by the armed underground are not decreasing in number as a result of the arrest or liquidation of fighters of the North Caucasian resistance movement. For instance, the Sharia Jamaat issued a statement on March 5 explaining that their slain comrades-in-arms were from different groups that had entered Makhachkala to carry out a large-scale operation in the capital. The statement acknowledges that while their plans were foiled, the resistance suffered the loss of five mujahideen while the number of law enforcement officials (including police, Special Purpose Police Squad and Federal Security Service officers) killed and wounded totaled “several dozen men” (http://www.jamaatshariat.com/content/view/1020/34/).

The Sharia Jamaat statement says that new groups of youth who joined the resistance movement are being trained in forests and mountains. The jamaat advises young people not to seek to join them. The statement urges them “to study the military arts, learn how to shoot, train your body and soul, and to read the Koran more often.” In other words, there is no shortage in filling the ranks at the moment, which may suggest that there is an existing network of numerous cells across the republic. The jamaat warns that it will carry out strikes against the authorities and more specifically against those officials who are trying to intimidate and harass their wives and sisters. These officials are at the top of the list of individuals to be executed first. These types of statements once carried more propaganda value, but today the authorities need to pay more attention to them because they serve as warnings of things to come. A vivid example of this looming scenario for Dagestan can be found in Ingushetia, where the authorities are no longer capable of controlling the situation (see "Yevkurov Acknowledges Difficult Security Situation, Offers Amnesty" in this issue).

After an armed assault on a bus filled with police officers (Newsru.com, February 26), the local authorities increased armed patrols in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala. Yet, despite that, a powerful explosion went off in the heart of Makhachkala on February 28. Although there were no reports of casualties, this was a demonstration by the Sharia Jamaat of its capabilities to carry out strikes in the heart of the capital (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/150235).

On March 5, the mujahideen in Dagestan carried out an armed assault with machine guns and grenade launchers on the Khasavyurt District Department of Internal Affairs building.  The building suffered significant structural damage but there were no reports of police casualties (Kavkaz.tv/russ, March 6). There was also an assassination attempt on the head of the Khasavyurt District police department, Colonel Ilmiamin Magomedov, in the town of Khasavyurt. Itar-Tass on March 6 cited the head of the Dagestani Interior Ministry’s press service, Mark Tolchinsky, who stated that the attack was carried out in the evening at the intersection of Batyrmurzaev and Ekskavatorskaya streets in Khasavyurt. An explosion took place as Magomedov’s car was passing by, after which the vehicle was riddled with bullets from automatic weapons. Neither the driver nor Magomedov were hurt in the attack. The assailants managed to flee the scene unharmed (Newsru.com, March 5).

It should be noted that the reports of militant attacks carried out in the Khasavyurt District are numerically comparable to those carried out in Makhachkala. The level of militant activity despite the fact that it is winter (the Russian authorities generally fear the advent of spring because they believe it is accompanied by an increase in actions by the armed underground) confirms the validity of the assertion that the Dagestani militants, unlike their Chechen counterparts, are more often located in densely-populated areas.

On March 6, the Military Commissioner of Dagestan’s Tsumadinsky District, Magomed Musaev, was shot dead. According to Interfax, the Dagestani Interior Ministry’s press service reported that the assassination occurred in the evening in Makhachkala. Musaev’s body was found close to the entrance of the residential building in which he resided. He was killed execution-style by one shot in the head (Echo.msk.ru, March 6). Considering that Musaev’s position is one of the most important at the district level, his assassination was a major score for the militants. It should be noted that Tsumadinsky District, where Musaev served as military commissioner, is located in the mountainous part of the republic bordering Chechnya and Georgia. In February 2008, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described it as an additional corridor for an incursion into Georgia (from Botlikh via the Tsumadinsky District into Georgia), six months before the actual invasion of Georgia by Russian troops (see http://www.rg.ru/2008/02/05/putin.html).

On March 7, unknown assailants carried out an armed assault on the car of the head of the District Election Committee, Shamil Alilov, in the suburbs of Makhachkala. Alilov escaped unscathed, and the two assailants fled the scene also unharmed (Echo.msk.ru, March 7).

Thus, the wave of violence in Dagestan is actually progressing in accordance with the conclusion of political scientist Sergei Markedonov who, based on the results of the local elections held in the republic on March 1, warns that the population has no trust towards the local authorities. Furthermore, he cites specific data on Dagestan’s Untsukulsky District, where the turnout was the lowest—little more than 20 percent (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/markedonov_vybory). Considering that authorities carried out a special operation against militants in Untsukulsky District, which lasted about nine months (from December 2007 to August 2008), there is little doubt that the local population simply ignored the elections in protest and opposition to the authorities.