Security in Dagestan Continues to Deteriorate

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 188

Dagestani leader, Magomedsalam Magomedov

The arrival of fall has not seen a decline in rebel attacks in Dagestan after a violent summer. Indeed, given the ferociousness of the daily battles between government forces and the insurgents in the republic, it is amazing that the head of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, manages to even attend public events without becoming the target of an attack himself. On October 8, Magomedov visited the city of Derbent in southern Dagestan, where the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Derbent district was celebrated (www.riadagestan.ru, October 8).  

Private sources in the republic’s capital, Makhachkala, confirm that the security situation in the republic has deteriorated so dramatically that a majority of people find it intolerable. According to these sources, as soon as any shooting or explosion takes place in the city, people start calling each other in panic to check if their relatives and friends are safe. No one feels protected against the possibility of falling victim to the fighting between the government and insurgents. In addition, there are also battles between criminal gangs that regularly clash over the redistribution of property, inflicting additional pain on the city’s dwellers.

The frequent visits to the republic by federal officials also signal that the situation in the republic is deteriorating. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev has recently paid his fifth visit to Dagestan in the past four months (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 4). According to police sources, the Russian minister’s visits are organized so secretly that even people in the headquarters of Dagestani police do not normally know about them until the last minute.

The Russian interior minister’s latest visit to Dagestan was less trouble to the republican authorities than the public protest against corruption that coincided with his arrival.  The demonstration was scheduled to take place on Makhachkala’s central square, where several hundred protesters were to gather. However, the Dagestani police headquarters also is located in the same square the republican authorities did not want the Rashid Nurgaliev to see the gathering (www.chernovik.net, October 7). The protesters were stopped in the vicinity of the square and asked to wait until the “high-ranking” guest had left. After waiting for an hour, people started breaking through the police cordons. After the demonstrators delivered their speeches on the corruption of the regional authorities and police, the participants started to leave the square, but the police had received orders to crack down on the rally organizers. Policemen started to grab the participants, especially those who had made video recordings or held placards. Deputy Dagestani Interior Minister Magomed Ismailov personally oversaw the suppression of the protest. Dozens of people were beaten up and over 28 persons were detained.

Meanwhile, apart from the usual reports about the number of insurgents killed, it was announced during the meeting between Dagestani authorities and the Russian interior minister that the Dagestani police had created a new special group to fight the insurgents. Neither the Russian interior minister nor the Dagestani interior ministry was able to describe coherently this newly created police group and its functions. Similar to the Sever and Yug battalions in Chechnya, the creation of a special 7,000-man group had been announced in Dagestan previously, with the idea that it would become the regional police’s main force to combat the rebels. Dagestanis were to comprise 80 percent of the group. However, the new group has not been heard of in police reports on battles with the insurgents since the group was conceived in June. Since the commander of Russian interior ministry troops, Nikolai Rogozhkin, accompanied Rashid Nurgaliev to Dagestan this time, it may point to the establishment of a new group that will be subordinated directly to Moscow, bypassing the Dagestani law-enforcement structures.

After making comments about how the security situation in Dagestan is bad and shows no signs of improving, two days later, on October 6, Nurgaliev summoned Dagestani leader Magomedsalam Magomedov to Yessentuki in Stavropol region to continue the discussion. This time the situation in Dagestan was discussed in the presence of Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, at the 8th meeting of the Russian interdepartmental commission on the fight against extremism in the Russian Federation (www.riadagestan.ru, October 6).

Nurgaliev left out of the conversation the fact that 80 percent of all mosques in Russia are in Dagestan.  Moreover, there are 13 Islamic higher education institutions in the republic, and almost all mosques have mektebs (Islamic schools). The level of Islamization in Dagestan is the highest in Russia: half of the republic’s population would like to live under Sharia law and 40 percent of its young people see Dagestan’s future along the lines of the countries in the Persian Gulf (http://religion.ng.ru, October 5). According to Ruslan Gireyev, an expert with the Center for Islamic Studies, the power base of the jamaats (the armed opposition) in Dagestan has significantly expanded. The armed opposition does not even need to conduct recruitment campaigns anymore because young people are flocking to the jamaats on their own.

As is usually the case at such meetings, those who attended the meeting in Yessentuki expressed concern over international forces that are purportedly trying to destabilize the region. Khloponin suggested barring Muslim clerics who have studied abroad from teaching Islam in Russia. That measure, however, is likely to create a major backlash, given that the North Caucasus has traditionally defied Russian official institutions; politicized groups would likely form around those who received Islamic education abroad, who would be seen as the “true” mullahs and imams. Despite the fact that this has happened again and again in the past, Moscow still thinks it will be able to implement this policy successfully.