Stavropol Becomes Cordon Sanitaire for Kremlin in Protecting Sochi

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 9

Police investigate scene of cars with murdered drivers and IEDs, January 8, Stavropol (Source: RIA Novosti)

The mysterious killings of six people in Stavropol region on January 8 came as a complete surprise to the region’s law enforcement agencies and residents. Three cars whose drivers had been shot dead were discovered in the region (http://ria.ru/incidents/20140108/988253190.html). The first car was found near the entrance to the settlement of Tambukan in Stavropol region’s Predgorny district on the administrative border with Kabardino-Balkaria. A local resident was found dead with a bullet wound in the head in a Russian-made car. When investigators arrived at the scene, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded 20 meters away from the car. No one was hurt in the blast (http://izvestia.ru/news/563700).

It must be added that the southern side of Tambukan borders the village of Zalukokoazhe, which is known to be a hotbed of activities of the Kabardino-Balkarian jamaat (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/232506/). The proximity of this neighborhood makes it more likely North Caucasian jihadists were involved in the incident. The authorities, meanwhile, refuse to disclose some details of the incident. Thus, according to one witness, when residents of Tambukan learned about the murder, they called the police, who arrived only three hours later. After their arrival the police took no action, instead leaving everything as it was until investigators arrived the next morning. The explosion took place when a passenger bus stopped near the car with the slain man in it. Although no people were hurt in the blast, the fact that the IED detonated when the bus approached indicates that the IED was specifically designed to inflict mass casualties (http://stavropol.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/236482/).

In the village of Zolskaya in Stavropol region’s Kirov district, two cars were found on two neighboring streets. A dead body with bullet wounds was found in each of the cars (http://ria.ru/incidents/20140108/988253190.html). Zolskaya also borders the Kabardino-Balkarian village of Zalukokoazhe. Shortly after this discovery, another car was found with three murdered people in it, this one in the Kirov district village of Maryinskaya. Sappers found an IED in a metal bucket near the car and defused it using a robot (http://izvestia.ru/news/563700).

Thus, all six murdered people were evidently victims of the same criminal episode. The victims were used as bait so that the IEDs could be detonated when many people were around. In the end, only one of the bombs detonated (http://www.interfax.ru/russia/txt/350545). Investigators said that the bombs were identical to those used by North Caucasian militants (http://www.ntv.ru/novosti/826236/).

Officials have tried to mislead the public when speculating about possible motives behind the murders, alleging that the slain people may have been taxi drivers targeted by militants because they refused to give them money. The cab drivers of Stavropol region rejected this version as manifestly absurd. According to the cab drivers, “the militants stopped everybody. They checked several drivers’ papers and let them go” (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/236443/). Moreover, out of the six people killed, only one was a cab driver, they pointed out. It is interesting that the militants stopped cars and checked the drivers’ documents. Thus, the militants established a checkpoint in Stavropol region and were apparently looking for particular individuals. It is plausible that they were looking for people who have ties to the police or to the military. This is a new development in the activities of the Baksan jamaat, one of the strongest sub-units of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Yarmuk jamaat.

Three militants from the Baksan jamaat have been named as suspects in the attack—32-year-old Anzor Margushev, his 23-year-old brother Artur Margushev and 25-year-old Vadim Shogenov. All three are from the village of Svetlovodskoe in Kabardino-Balkaria’s Zolsky district and are on the Russian federal wanted list for murders and illegal possession of arms (http://www.rg.ru/2014/01/09/reg-skfo/versiya.html).

Residents of Stavropol region for the first time have experienced a counter-terrorist operation regime—something residents of the North Caucasus have been experiencing for quite a long time. A counter-terrorist operation regime was introduced in parts of Stavropol region’s Predgorny district (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/236442/). Places where counter-terrorism operation regimes have been introduced once usually experience them again, so there will probably be reports of another similar type of operation occurring again in this district in the future.

Attempts by Russian authorities to depict the attacks in Stavropol as ordinary criminal incidents are understandable. In the run-up to the Olympic Games in the neighboring Krasnodar region, Stavropol region is a kind of cordon sanitaire, preventing the militants from accessing Sochi. This mass killing should be seen as a militant reconnaissance action, probing the Russian security services’ control over this part of the North Caucasus.

The Russian security services have blocked all travel by people from Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia toward Sochi. The Security Council of Ingushetia has stated that residents of the North Caucasus are strongly advised not to visit the Krasnodar region during the Olympic Games despite the fact that Moscow is parading the Olympic torch through each of the North Caucasus capitals, Nalchik, Grozny and Makhachkala, etc. According to some sources, this view of the situation is the same in Dagestan and Chechnya. Sources say that those who try to visit Krasnodar region will be detained and sent back (http://tvrain.ru/articles/sochi_zakrytyj_gorod_komu_ne_rekomendovano_poseschat_krasnodarskij_kraj-360197/).

On his Facebook page, lawyer Kaloi Akhilgov, who was formerly spokesman for the Ingush leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, wrote: “The Security Council officially confirmed for Ingushetia the following: in order to travel to Krasnodar region during the Olympiad, every resident of Ingushetia should apply to the Security Council of the republic with an appropriate notice that should contain the reason for the visit, the dates of the visit and so on; a photocopy of the passport should be attached. This information is sent to the Krasnodar region FSB [Federal Security Service]. ‘Otherwise, they may simply turn you back at the border with Krasnodar region without explanation,’ my source said” (https://www.facebook.com/ahikaloy/posts/10201485271279334).

Consequently, the chances seem bleak for a resident of the North Caucasus to obtain a “Fan’s Passport” (https://pass.sochi2014.com/sochi/#tab_main) to attend the 2014 Olympiad in Sochi.

However, these preventive measures by the security services are unlikely to stop jihadists from trying to spoil Russia’s events in Sochi and new attacks by militants targeting the Olympics may occur soon. The attacks will not necessarily be in the area of Sochi; but rather, they may be anywhere in Russia outside the North Caucasus—wherever a suicide bomber manages to infiltrate.