Security concerns in the North Caucasus traditionally peak in the summer. Warm weather and green leaves on trees help the Caucasian rebels intensify their attacks on Russian army units and local police forces. Every summer and fall Russian security officials try to guess where the insurgents are planning a massive rebel attack and try to prevent it. In May police and army forces conducted several large-scale security sweeps in Chechnya and Ingushetia (see Chechnya Weekly, May 10), and at the beginning of June anti-militant measures were stepped-up in Dagestan.
On June 9 Vremya novostei reported that a large-scale security sweep had begun in the areas of Dagestan that border Chechnya. Some 5,000 troops are combing the woods looking for the militants and their leader, Rappani Khalilov, commander of the Dagestan insurgency. According to the newspaper, Moscow has dispatched additional special-task units from both the police and the Federal Security Service (FSB) to the region. Now the special services and military intelligence are monitoring all mountain areas of the republic. One FSB representative told Vremya novostei that surveillance patrols of policemen and border guards had been set up in the Dagestan Mountains. The task of these patrols is to search for rebels and direct artillery and helicopter attacks if needed.
The first clash resulting from the latest sweep occurred on June 2 near Solnechnoe village in Khasavyurt district. Three militants were hiding in a dugout. Police surrounded and killed all three of them after six hours of heavy fighting. According to official reports, two policemen were also killed and one wounded during the shoot-out. The rebels reported through the Kavkaz-Center website that three officers from the GRU (military intelligence) special forces were also killed.
In addition to official activities, the insurgents are ambushing police patrols. Two attacks recently occurred in the mountainous Buinaksk district of central Dagestan.
Against these unfolding events, the government of Dagestan sponsored a conference, “Burning Issues of Fighting Religious and Political Extremism,” which was held in Makhachkala, the regional capital, on June 6. Top Russian security officials such as FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, and Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika attended. Also participating were Dagestan’s President Mukhu Aliev, Dmitry Kozak, the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Karachaevo-Cherkessia President Mustafa Batdyev, Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov, Ravil Gainutdin, leader of Russian Muslims, and many other political, spiritual, and public figures.
Mukhu Aliev opened the conference with a speech focused on ideological countermeasures that should be taken against the insurgency in Dagestan. He admitted that the main aim of the regional insurgency is to separate the republic from Russia and establish an Islamic state. He also stressed that officials should not turn the war on terror into the war against Islam in order to weaken public support for the insurgency. At the same time, Aliev said that religious education and propaganda regarding “traditional Islam” would also be necessary among local youth. The president believes that it will be impossible to destroy the insurgency without anti-corruption measures or improvements in the regional economy. Aliev also implied that pro-Russian propaganda should be strengthened in the republic.
Patrushev, as usual, argued that foreign threats are the main source of instability in the Russian South. “Today extremism is becoming more impudent and dangerous. Mainly it is because of an activity by some political circles, several foreign countries, which aim to weaken Russia in the international arena” (Regnum, June 7). However, the FSB chief also said that recent studies of the Caucasus confirmed the importance of local conditions, “The increasing strength of extremism is connected with a peculiarity of each region.”
Nurgaliev characterized the situation in Dagestan as “quite difficult.” He argued that the mission of the Dagestani police — to protect public order — has been substantially compromised over the past 10 years due to the need to confront extremist forces “fed both by internal separatism and by external anti-Russian centers.” Dagestan, he said, which “occupies a key strategic position in the North Caucasus region, has become one of the main targets for terrorist activities.” In his view, all means have been used to try and pull Dagestan out of the Russian Federation, “ranging from the ideological expansion of Wahhabism to the direct armed invasion of bandit groups from Chechnya.” He further argued, “It is the republic’s police that act as the main barrier to extremism and terrorism in Dagestan.” This explains the constant attacks on police units by bandits and illegal armed groups. Over the past two-and-a-half years, there have been nearly 250 attacks of this kind, resulting in the deaths of dozens of police officers, including several top officials from Dagestan’s Interior Ministry, such as Deputy Minister Magomed Omarov,” the minister said. Some 80 policemen were killed and 47 injured during this period (RIA-Novosti, June 7).
The conference ended with a consensus that the consolidation of the whole society is vital for fighting the rebels. Essentially, the security officials admitted that they will not defeat the insurgents with weapons alone.
It is hard to say how — or even whether — the conference will affect the situation in Dagestan. Most of the participants, including Aliev, Patrushev, Nurgaliev, and Kozak, repeated the banal statements that Russian officials have always used while talking about terrorism in the North Caucasus. As usual, they lump together economic, political, and criminal problems. As a result, nobody could say what exactly should be done first, what kind of propaganda is appropriate, or what kind of measures should be taken.