The North Caucasus in 2009: Security Situation Worsened for Moscow

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 5

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev visits with soldiers in Dagestan in June 2009 (AFP)

A massive flurry of official statements was released to the Russian mass media by politicians, analysts, and experts on Russia summing up the year 2009 in the North Caucasus. After an assessment of these statements, it is increasingly obvious that the situation in the region in 2009 became worse compared to the previous year. Aleksandr Shashin, the deputy chief of Russian Interior Ministry’s headquarters in the Southern Federal District, says that the terrorist crime rate in 2009 increased by 60 percent in southern Russia in comparison to 2008 (www.rosbalt.ru, December 25). It is worth noting that according to Stanislav Stadnichenko, the deputy chief of the Prosecutor General’s Office’s headquarters in the Southern Federal District, 80 percent of the terrorist related crimes in Russia took place in the Southern Federal District (Interfax, September 22). In 2009, almost 800 detained militants and accomplices were detained in the North Caucasus. Nonetheless, the terrorist threat in Russia remains at a high level, according to the Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Aleksandr Bortnikov (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 10).

The casualties from insurgency-related violence in the region are estimated to be in the hundreds (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 1), but it is quite possible that the real number is even higher. From the beginning of 2009, the number of murder attempts on law enforcement personnel in Dagestan doubled this year –reaching 193, compared to 100 in 2008. Since the beginning of 2009, 150 militants have been killed, including five international mercenaries. Some 108 members of armed underground and their accomplices were detained (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 19). The accidental death of emir Al Bar (Umalat Magomedov), the Dagestani jamaat leader, in Khasavyurt on December 31, 2009, was good fortune for the siloviki. This incident will enable Moscow to claim that the jamaat was completely routed. As a matter of fact, quite a few leaders of the jamaat in Dagestan have perished in recent years, but the jamaat’s activity remained at the same level (www.vesti.ru, January 2).

Just the fact that Russia’s Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev ordered the use of aviation in the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya and that governmental buildings and key points be taken under special control reveals a lot about the “calm” situation in the entire region and Chechnya in particular (www.vz.ru, December 22). This decision was made at the meeting at the Operations Headquarters in Grozny on December 22, 2009. It means that, ten years after the beginning of the second Chechen War, the Russian siloviki are still using military aviation in the republic. It is worth noting that the redeployment of additional military forces from central Russia to the North Caucasus and the creation of new military units in the region continued in 2009 (www.newsland.ru, November 2).

Unrest continues in other parts of the North Caucasus. Extra-judicial executions long ago became an indicator of the worsening situation there. Casualties in Ingushetia are estimated in the hundreds. Valery Khatazhukov, head of the public human rights center in Kabardino-Balkaria, fears that armed resistance of the kind found in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia may break out in Kabardino-Balkaria (http://chechnya.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/163344/). If that happens, then Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygea will join Kabardino-Balkaria in that process. These developments could raise resistance in those republics to the level of resistance in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia.

The role and significance of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was also revised by the federal government in Moscow in 2009. His statements and opinions can be viewed as an expression of the opinion of members of the inner circle of Vladimir Putin. They often can serve as a good indicator of the Kremlin’s true response to domestic and international developments (www.rusk.ru, December 26). Kadyrov is also being considered for several of the highest positions at the federal level, including the post of special presidential envoy to the North Caucasus. In fact, he is considered the most likely candidate for this post.

Moreover, nationalistic sentiments, which are a good indicator of the state of public opinion, started stirring up in the region in 2009. Phenomena of this type occur when society perceives weaknesses in its authorities. Ethnic sentiments were overshadowed by the pressure from radical Islamists. But the roots of ethnic separatism have an absolutely different foundation. They provide the basis of resistance to Russia. That is why one should be anticipating active external pressure from the multi-million Diaspora of people from the North Caucasus living in Turkey and the Middle East.

One should not underestimate the possible impact of the North Caucasus situation on the Volga regions of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, which have always been using the federal center’s weaknesses to push the agenda of the local elites. Having lost a lot of their sovereign rights during the reign of Vladimir Putin, the Volga regions would love to get some of their sovereignty back under Dmitry Medvedev.

Russian policy towards the North Caucasus has a tendency to attract local functionaries to work at the federal level. Today, people of North Caucasian origin are working for the administrations of Russia’s president, prime minister and various committees of the State Duma and Federation Council. They are forming a kind of federal human resources reserve that is intended for the subsequent appointment of Moscow’s ideologues to the local positions. The same applies to business.

Russian recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia became an additional reason for an increase in the activities of the militants in the North Caucasus –that, at least, is the view of Dagestan’s President Mukhu Aliev (www.riadagestan.ru, November 26). The issue of Russia’s territorial integrity is no longer relevant for the militants and nationalists. Russia has crossed the line first, thereby giving a carte blanche to the nationalists.

Today, Russia understands full well that calm in its south “largely depends on the situation in Chechnya” (www.rosbalt.ru, December 26). That underscores the fact that the role of catalyst for the destabilization of the situation in the south belongs exclusively to Chechnya and the Chechen people. That is why the authorities in Moscow devote so much attention to Chechnya.

Thus, it is fair to assume that Moscow is likely to lose what it has left in the region, meaning that the situation in the North Caucasus is likely to worsen in 2010.