On May 16 the separatist Kavkazcenter website published a decree from Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, the new Chechen rebel leader after Aslan Maskhadov’s death in March. Sadulaev ordered the insurgents to establish a new front in the North Caucasus. According to the decree, the “Caucasus Front” will consist of the four republics west of Chechnya (Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia), and two provinces populated mostly by ethnic Russians: Krasnodar Krai and Stavropol Krai (Kavkazcenter, May 16). Recently Doku Umarov, a senior Chechen field commander, announced that the separatist forces are changing their tactics and would attack outside Chechnya (see Chechnya Weekly, May 11).
These statements forced the Russian authorities to step up their countermeasures. On May 13, Nikolai Rogozhkin, commander of the Russian Interior (MVD) troops, announced that MVD troops would be increased in the cities of Elista (Kalmyikia), Cherkessk (Karachaevo-Cherkessia), Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria) and Sochi (Interfax, May 13). The following day Rogozhkin went to personally inspect the preparations for the deployment (yufo.ru, May 14). On May 16, Dmitry Kozak, the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, made a short, top-secret visit to Nalchik to meet Valery Kokov, the president of Kabardino-Balkaria, and members of the local government (yufo.ru, May 16). A press release subsequently said that the meeting examined, “The perspectives of the social and economic development of the republic,” but the closed-door nature of the meeting suggests that Kozak and Kokov discussed a quite different issue: what could be done to prevent insurgent attacks in the region.
In fact, Russian security officials do more than anyone else to promote the North Caucasus insurgents. The rebels themselves could not take the war beyond the borders of Chechnya if they did not have at least some local support. More then 200 Ingush took part in the raid to Ingushetia in June 2004, the first real operation organized by rebels from Chechnya in recent years. These Ingush fighters joined the Chechen separatist groups because of the numerous kidnappings and secret detentions conducted by federal forces in the republic. The federal authorities believed that repression would stop the Ingush population from helping the Chechen fighters hiding in the region, but the actual result was the formation of an independent, armed Ingush resistance against the local and Russian authorities.
Late last year, the same process started to develop in Dagestan and again it was stimulated by lawlessness of siloviki. On December 21, 2004, residents of several Dagestani villages blocked the Kavkaz highway to demand the release of their relatives who had been snatched during night raids in the villages. The protestors issued a statement reading, “We are residents of Khasavyurt, Novolak, and Kizilurt regions, and we are certain that Dagestani law-enforcement agencies, together with the federal security services and security services of the Chechen republic, are involved in kidnappings in the territory of Dagestan. If our demand is not met, we reserve the right to use all possible means to fight against state terrorism. Illegal persecution is a crime and a form of genocide (Kavkazcenter, December 21, 2004).
Their demands went unmet and night raids continued in Dagestan (see EDM, May 12). On April 28, another protest took place in Makhachkala, the capital, where people blamed the Federal Security Service (FSB) for kidnappings (regnum, April 28). On May 14 residents of the Kizlyar region in northern Dagestan blocked the road near Kizlyar (Kavkaztsky uzel, May 14). Their demands are the same: to release men detained by security services.
While some Dagestanis still hope to get justice by nonviolent means, others have become rebels. This atmosphere helps rebel leaders like Shamil Basaev, who are recruiting young men to their cause. On May 11, two persons were arrested in Khasavyurt for recruiting soldiers for the rebel army (regnum, May 11).
Federal agents have become more cautious about detaining locals in Ingushetia, but they still suppress legal opposition. Protest rallies for the resignation of Ingush president Murat Zyazikov were banned and the organizer arrested. The rebels immediately took advantage of the situation. “Musa,” an Ingush rebel commander, appealed to the Ingush through the Kavkazcenter website, explaining the uselessness of nonviolence and calling for jihad (Kavkazcenter, April 30).
In Kabardino-Balkaria, people are now persecuted on both ethnic and religious grounds. On April 19, police arrested a group of female students at Nalchik University for reading the Koran in a classroom (regnum, April 20). The Muslim-dominated region nearly exploded because of this incident.
In the early hours of May 15, Arthur Zokaev, chief administrator for the village of Khasanya, was shot dead near his house. Zokaev was a leader of the Balkar minority movement, who oppose efforts to incorporate some of the republic’s Balkar-populated areas into Nalchik district. If this reform is carried out, the Balkars will loose even the minimal autonomy they now enjoy. After Zokaev’s assassination, the Balkars tried to organize a protest rally in the capital, but police blocked all roads to Nalchik (Caucasus Times, May 16).
The Council of the Balkar Nation, a non-government group, appealed to the president of Kabardino-Balkaria, asking him to personally supervise the murder investigation, else Balkar youth could behave recklessly (Caucasus Times, May 17). Their appeal may have come too late. According to sources in the republic, Balkar young men are joining Yarmuk, the local armed rebel group, in unprecedented numbers.
Popular support helps the insurgents to widen the war zone and to create new sectors of military and terrorist activities. At the same time, federal security officials continue to “successfully” fight against terrorism in Chechnya without noticing that the “war on terror” is already well under way throughout the North Caucasus.