Early in the morning of February 24, Russian Special Forces supported by military troops started to move slowly around the village of Pervy Kizlyarsky, a settlement located in the Kizlyar District of Dagestan. According to the NTV television channel, armored personnel carriers and mobile military posts blocked all roads to the village, while special units began moving into the center of the village, toward a private house on Ukrainskaya Street. The Federal Security Service (FSB) had received information the previous day that a group of militants from Chechnya was hiding there. At 6:00 PM, the Special Forces encircled the house. However, they were immediately met with fierce resistance from the rebels inside. The Russian servicemen were unable to enter the house due to the heavy rebel fire: the gunmen used assault rifles and under barrel grenade launchers. The Special Forces responded with heavy-machine guns and flamethrowers. Finally, at 11:00 PM, the house was burned to the ground. Two dead bodies were found among the remains. It was then announced that two others had been found. However, many Russian media outlets, including NTV and other television networks, reported that three rebels had been in the house and one of them had managed to escape. Later, on February 26, the rebel command confirmed through the Kavkaz-Center website the loss of two of their fighters in Pervy Kizlyarsky. The authorities, however, insist they killed four in the shoot-out.
Regardless of what the numbers may have been, what is known is that the insurgents who were killed in the village belonged to a rebel group headed by Takhir Bataev, a famous Chechen field commander. The fact that Adilgerei Magomedtagirov, Dagestan’s Interior Minister, and Nikolai Gryaznov, head of the Dagestan branch of the FSB, personally commanded the operation in Pervy Kizlyarsky reveals that the security officials may have been hoping to get Bataev himself; they have been looking for him for quite some time now.
In October 2005, security officials declared that they had killed Bataev in the Dagestan city of Khasavyurt. “Bataev was the right hand of Shamil Basaev,” Sergei Solodovnikov, deputy head of the Main Directorate for the Southern Federal District in the Russian Interior Ministry, told Interfax on October 19, after the operation in Khasavyurt. “If you mention the name of Bataev to a resident of [Chechnya’s] Shelkovskoi district, he would be terrified. Not only are people in the Shelkovskoi district scared of him, but also people in other areas of Chechnya.” It turned out, however, that Bataev was not killed in Khasavyurt and that a different militant had been mistakenly identified as Bataev.
On September 14, 2006, RIA Novosti reported that law-enforcement officials had obtained intelligence suggesting that militants from the rebel “Nogai Battalion” under the command of Takhir Bataev were concentrating their forces in Dagestan’s Nogai district (EDM, September 26, 2006). In early October 2006, Kavkaz-Center posted a decree from Dokku Umarov that stated that Bataev had been appointed as the commander of the “North-East Front” in Chechnya. After that, Bataev started to play an especially important role in the Chechen insurgency. A photo of Bataev was added to the pantheon of rebel leaders across the Caucasus that can be found on the Kavkaz-Center website’s main page.
Takhir Bataev was born in the Shelkovskoi district in northeast Chechnya. He is not a Chechen, but a Nogai, a minority ethnic group that lives in northern Chechnya as well as in some areas of Dagestan and Stavropol Krai. When Russian troops invaded Chechnya in 1994, many Nogais joined the Chechen resistance movement. The Nogais are devout Muslims and still remember their genocide at the hands of the Tsarist Russian army in the 18th century (EDM, February 16, 2006; EDM, September 26, 2006). The contemporary Russian invasion revived many of these old memories and inspired calls for revenge. Bataev was among hundreds of the Nogais who joined the Chechen rebels and organized the so-called “Nogai Battalion.” According to various sources, the battalion consisted, at different times, of 300 to 700 men. Yevgenia Androsova, the press secretary of the FSB branch in Stavropol, said that about 200 young Nogais had been recruited to the battalion (ITAR-Tass, February 11, 2006). Sultan Dautov, who was one of the best police detectives in Chechnya during the Soviet period, was the first commander of the battalion (Moskovsky komslomolets, September 21, 2003).
During the early years of the second Chechen war, the battalion was headed by Adam Khamsatkhanov who was killed in 2001. Khamsatkhanov was replaced by Yulubi Yelgushiev. Yelgushiev was killed in 2004 in the Dagestan city of Kizlyar and after that, Takhir Bataev became the leader of the battalion. In October 2006, Bataev became the commander of all rebel groups that operate in the northeast region of Chechnya, in the north of Dagestan and in Stavropol Krai. Security officials claim that insurgents led by Bataev have conducted about 50 attacks in different areas of the North Caucasus, though mostly in the Shelkovskoi district. Not all of them have been reported by the Russian media. On September 10, 2006, Bataev’s men attacked the district police department in the village of Shelkovskya. On October 5, 2006, another police garrison was attacked in the village of Karagalinsky. On September 19, rebels from the Nogai Battalion attacked the house of Wakhid Mantsaev, deputy chairman of the upper house of Chechnya’s pro-Russian parliament. The rebels under Takhir Bataev’s command continue to regularly attack police patrols, military motorcades and checkpoints in Chechnya and Dagestan.
It is the dream of the commanders of the Russian anti-terrorist forces in the North Caucasus to one day find and kill Takhir Bataev. However, he and his men continue to elude capture by moving around Chechnya, Dagestan and Stavropol Krai. With spring approaching, the hunt for the elusive Bataev is now in full swing.