Russian Security Services Make Dubious Claims of Big Achievements

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 19

On September 20, the Russian security services claimed a landmark achievement in fighting insurgents in Kabardino-Balkaria, saying that they had carried out “one of the most successful special operations in the republic in the past several years.” Quoting sources in the security services, the newspaper Kommersant reported that the police had learned about a meeting of top commanders of the Caucasus Emirate in central Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, and ambushed them. Eight people were killed by the police, including the rebel emir of Kabardino-Balkaria, 31-year-old Ruslan Batyrbekov, and three of his deputies—28-year-old Zalim Tutov, 23-year-old Shamil Ulbashev and 27-year-old Artur Karkaev. According to the security services, Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov had appointed Batyrbekov head of the insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria shortly before the special operation. Tutov oversaw militant actions in the republic’s Baksan district, while Ulbashev headed the insurgency in the city of Nalchik and Karkaev, having orchestrated attacks in the Cherek and Urvan districts of the republic (http://kommersant.ru/doc/2026703).
The last time the Russian security services scored such a success in Kabardino-Balkaria was in April 2011, when they nearly wiped out the leaders of the republican insurgency while they were meeting in a town with the telling name Progress that is located in the neighboring Russian-majority Stavropol region north of Kabardino-Balkaria. Ten militants were killed in last year’s special operation, including such notorious leaders of the rebels as Asker Jappuev, Kazbek Tashuev and Ratmir Shameyev (http://www.newsru.com/russia/29apr2011/gameover.html).
As is almost always the case, the security services supplied pieces of highly dubious information about the latest special operation in Nalchik, which raises questions about the true story behind the events. News agencies reported that an area in Nalchik where the rebels were located was sealed off on the evening of September 19. Later that day, government forces engaged the surrounded rebels in a shootout and then suspended the operation until the next morning, September 20. For some reason, a counterterrorism regime was introduced in the area only on that morning (http://kommersant.ru/doc/2026703). 
At the very least, this means that the law enforcement agencies had no prior knowledge of who exactly they faced in the house they surrounded, meaning this was not a carefully planned police operation but rather a lucky coincidence for the police. The reasons the security services claim such omnipresence and omnipotence are two-fold. On the one hand, the local FSB and other security agencies want to cast themselves as highly professional officers. On the other hand, the federal headquarters of the security services that oversee the information campaign want to perpetuate the myth of the Russian government’s omnipotence as an element in the propaganda war in order to discourage the rebels and potential new insurgent recruits. 
One of the rebel leaders killed on September 20, Zalim Tutov, was accused of participating in the attack on the Baksan hydroelectric plant in 2010. Another leader of the Kabardino-Balkarian insurgency, Kazbek Tashuev, who was killed in April 2011, was also accused of involvement in the attack on the hydroelectric plant. Tutov reportedly participated in killings of law enforcement agents and businessmen who refused to make payments to the militants. Two women, 24-year-old Maryana Olmezova and 20-year-old Maryana Tishkova, were killed in the September 20 police operation in Nalchik. Several years ago, Olmezova reportedly saved a militant who was blown up by his own IED in the city of Tyrnyauz. The female rebel seized someone’s car at gunpoint and drove the injured militant to safety (http://kommersant.ru/doc/2026703). 
Olmezova was apparently indeed on the federal wanted list but was evidently not considered dangerous, given that the website of Kabardino-Balkaria’s police said that if she were found she was to sign an agreement not to leave her hometown. That type of restriction is normally imposed on very mild offenders (http://07.mvd.ru/cit/rozisk/13091/). Twenty-year-old Maryana Tishkova was accused of shooting back at police during the siege, of being Shamil Ulbashev’s wife and, more generally, of providing “active support for the militants” (http://kommersant.ru/doc/2026703). Much of the official information looks like standard accusations made against slain alleged rebels that are almost never verified or investigated. 
RIA Novosti’s website provided a long list of slain leaders of the North Caucasian insurgency movement in 2012. It is worthwhile to note that of the 30 slain insurgent leaders, Kabardino-Balkaria accounted for the majority of them, with five rebel leaders killed—second only to Dagestan, where 19 leaders of the insurgency have been killed thus far in 2012. Although five insurgent leaders were also killed in Ingushetia, most of them apparently came from Chechnya and qualify more as “Chechen militants” (http://ria.ru/spravka/20120920/755069141.html). 
It is not clear how the insurgency continues to survive and even grow in the North Caucasus, given such a high rate of losses among its leaders. It is highly plausible that the government inflates the number of rebel leaders. The local security services get credit for killing “leaders” rather than mere rebels. Moscow, in turn, scores on the propaganda front since, at any given period of time, the insurgent leaders appear to be nearly wiped out. 
The problem with the tactic of killing insurgent leaders, particularly in Kabardino-Balkaria, is that it brings mixed results. After the republic’s insurgent leaders were killed in April 2011, the security situation in Kabardino-Balkaria markedly improved. However, the killing of the moderate leader of Kabardino-Balkaria’s rebels, Anzor Astemirov, in March 2010, on the contrary, set the republic on a course toward civil war. Killing the heads of the insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria, therefore, can have either a positive or a negative impact on the security situation in the republic. Whereas, the fact that two women were killed in the most recent special operation means that the rate of exasperation amongst the population is on the increase, which is likely to result in greater security risks in the republic.