On September 5, a suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives attacked a Russian infantry military training camp near Buinaksk in Dagestan. According to official sources, four servicemen died in the attack and 35 were injured. Policemen who arrived at the site of the explosion afterwards also came under a bomb attack, but reportedly suffered no casualties. Russia’s defense ministry announced it is heightening the security regime in its camps across southern Russia (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 5). The real casualties may be even higher than officially admitted. At least two groups of wounded servicemen were airlifted to military hospital facilities in Rostov-on-Don for treatment, while only five people were reported to be in critical condition (Interfax, September 5).
Investigators identified the suicide bomber as 26-year-old Zamir Terekbaev, who came from Stavropol Krai’s Neftekumsk district (Interfax, September 7). This area in the predominantly ethnic Russian-populated Stavropol region is adjacent to northern Dagestan and has substantial non-Russian minorities of Dargin, Nogai, Kumyk and other Dagestani ethnic groups.
The situation in Dagestan has been volatile continuously over the past several years, but it now appears to be spiraling out of control as new forms of violence, such as suicide bombings, spread. On September 7, the Russian Public Chamber’s working group on the Caucasus in a special statement described the situation in Dagestan as “close to critical.” The chamber reacted to the chain of terror attacks in the republic and specifically to the attempt on the life of the Dagestani minister for ethnic policies, religion and external links, Bekmurza Bekmurzaev. The minister survived the attack on September 4. Two of his predecessors, Magomedsalikh Gusaev and Zagir Arukhov, were killed on August 27, 2003 and May 20, 2005, respectively (www.oprf.ru, September 7).
On September 8, the commander of the Russian interior ministry’s internal troops, Nikolai Rogozhkin, met with Dagestan’s President, Magomedsalam Magomedov, to discuss efforts to stabilize the situation in the republic (www.riadagestan.ru, September 8). The visit may pave way for the creation of local military Dagestani forces to combat the insurgency in the republic.
On August 11, President Dmitry Medvedev approved a plan to establish Chechen-type military detachments made up of ethnic Dagestanis to fight the insurgents. The plan is for at least 800 recruits divided into 2-3 battalions. The newly formed units will be incorporated into Russian interior ministry troop structures, exactly in the same way as the Chechen units “Sever” and “Yug” were created in 2006 at Ramzan Kadyrov’s request. The same way Kadyrov practically became the commander-in-chief of the “Sever” and “Yug” battalions, the Dagestani authorities are also expected to acquire an “army” of their own (Kommersant, August 13). The move does not seem to have received approval from many Dagestanis at this stage, as the critics argue that more pressure on that part of the population which supports the insurgency will result in greater bloodshed and civil violence (www.gazeta-nv.ru, September 3).
However, besides having a military task, the planned local military units will probably have economic and propagandist functions –namely, job creation in remote areas of Dagestan and indoctrinating potential insurgents in pro-Russian ideology. The baseline remains the same: Moscow is forced to revert to the tactic of having the local North Caucasians themselves serve on the frontline of the fight against regional insurgents. The tactic may seem attractive, given Chechnya’s example. Yet, in Dagestan there have been no large-scale military actions; only a guerilla war with scores of small insurgent groups operating throughout the republic. Therefore, the newly created military units are unlikely to have a matching enemy, instead they may evoke more resentment among the local population and cause further destabilization.
On August 21, government forces hailed the killing of two of the Dagestani insurgency’s leaders, including Magomedali Vagabov, whom they also tagged as the mastermind of the Moscow metro bombings in March 2010, as a significant blow to the insurgency. Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Aleksandr Bortnikov announced that the security services had found a valuable archive that led to the killing of several other insurgents and the uncovering of insurgent attack plans (RIA Novosti, August 25). The Islamic militants’ web resource, Kavkaz Center, dismissed the FSB’s claim about the existence of such an archive and suggested it was simply be a cover for government agents operating covertly within the insurgency (www.kavkazcenter.com, August 27).
On September 7, another cargo train was derailed in Dagestan near the northern city of Kizlyar and the railway was rendered unusable for several hours (www.riadagestan.ru, September 7). On the same day, a fire was reported at the Irganai hydroelectric plant high up in Dagestan’s mountains. According to initial reports about the attack, an explosion preceded the fire at the plant, but Russian media outlets later focused on efforts to put out the fire and stopped mentioning any signs of an insurgent-like attack (RIA Novosti, September 7).
The Irganai hydroelectric plant is one of the most powerful in the North Caucasus and has a dam over 100 meters high. It is situated in the Untsukul district of Dagestan, which is known for having a strong militant presence. The insurgency has thus far not claimed responsibility for the fire; however, Kavkaz Center reported that its sources in Dagestan confirmed the incident looked like an attack (www.kavkazcenter.com, September 8). The turbines of the plant are likely to have been badly damaged and require a $100 million worth repairs over two years. That, in turn, is going to affect negatively the shares of its owner –the Russian electricity generating giant Rusgidro (www.bigpowernews.ru, September 8). This is an oblique indication that the market does not trust the official explanation that the incident was simply an accidental fire.
Earlier this year, on July 21, the Baksan hydroelectric plant in Kabardino-Balkaria was attacked, leading to a public outcry in Russia over the fact that it was the first important economic installation that had been successfully attacked by North Caucasus insurgents. The insurgency appears to have put the important industrial plants in the North Caucasus on its list of targets, meaning that the struggle between the Russian government and rebel forces appears to be reaching a whole new level in militant strategy throughout the region.