The North Caucasus Remains Russia’s Perpetual Problem Region

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 219

A Russian Interior Ministry forces soldier examines a police vehicle in in Grozny.

The resounding speech made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in his annual address to the country’s parliament had no impact whatsoever on the situation in the North Caucasus (, November 12). While local officials are left guessing who will become the Kremlin’s man in charge in the North Caucasus (, November 12), reports of shootings and special security operations targeting members of the armed resistance keep arriving from the region.

Nearly all the attacks on siloviki perpetrated by members of Ingushetia’s Sharia Jamaat occur in the republic’s flatlands, which refutes the established belief that the insurgents operate in the mountains or woodlands. The attacks are more common on the Kavkaz (Caucasus) federal highway, particularly in the stretch of highway from the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya to the city of Nazran. According to local sources ( and, several attacks on policemen were registered recently in the area of the Ekazhevo settlement, which is in Ingushetia’s Nazran district. On November 20, two policemen were wounded inside their vehicle when it was fired on in broad daylight. One of them, M. B. Shauhalov, subsequently died in the hospital. That same night, unknown individuals shot up the courthouse of Ekazhevo with assault rifles and then set it on fire. Meanwhile, armed attacks on military motorcades and police stations no longer shock anyone in Ingushetia (, November 14, 15). Since the forced resignation of Ruslan Aushev, Ingushetia’s first president, in April 2002, the kidnapping of young people by the siloviki remains the most pressing problem in the republic.

Meanwhile, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has been losing count of the militants he personally eliminated. Almost all siloviki operations against militants in Chechnya are conducted under his personal supervision. According to Russian news sources, 35 militants were killed in October (, November 9). This figure will likely be surpassed in November. For example, the authorities reported on November 11 that five militants were killed in the area of Serzhen-Yurt in the Shali district. On November 13, they reported ten more militants had been killed during special operations in Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district of Chechnya, and that estimate was subsequently increased to 20. Meanwhile, Kadyrov announced that Dokka Umarov, the leader of the armed resistance in the North Caucasus, might have been among those killed in the operation in Achkhoi-Martan (, November 13). According to Chechen authorities, Dokka Umarov was hiding in the very area where the operation took place. It appears that these operations were meant to be a gift timed for Medvedev’s annual address.

In Dagestan, one of the largest republics in the North Caucasus, authorities have followed the lead of their Chechen colleagues and begun setting the houses of militants’ relatives on fire. Among the houses burned down was that of Emir Seifullah, the leader of Gubden jamaat (, November 19). It is worth noting that the Gubden and Khasavyurt jamaats have become the two most active cells of Dagestan’s Sharia Jamaat. Meanwhile, on November 17, Magomedshamil Shahbanov, the son of the head of Buinaksk administration, Mesterlu Shahbanov, was kidnapped. Also, the mullah of the local mosque in Starye Miatli in Dagestan’s Kizilyurt district, Ibragim Abakarov, was shot at by unidentified individuals. It is worth noting that religious leaders are frequent victims of attacks in the North Caucasus. For example, on November 21, a blast rocked the private house of the son of the mullah of one of Nazran’s mosques. The bombing was aimed at pressuring the Sufis –who, according to the insurgents, are cooperating with the authorities. That allegation cannot be true because the very nature of Sufism practiced in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan rejects the notion of open cooperation with any authorities. The Russian authorities at first skillfully used the Sufis in their North Caucasus politics and then simply knocked the Sufi element out of the game as Sufism became one of their biggest problems of the last two hundred years. The belief that Sufis support the authorities is inherently erroneous.

Reports of insurgent activity are arriving these days even from the relatively quiet region of Kabardino-Balkaria. Unidentified persons blew up an electrical substation and the “Azau-Krugozor” cableway in the Adyl-Su Gorge in Kabardino-Balkaria’s Elbrus region. Additionally, they fired on the “Azau” stationary road police post located at the 54th kilometer of the Prohladnyi-Azau federal highway at the Tyrnyauz city exit (, November 18). Moreover, according to Interfax, an act of terror was prevented at the Aushigersk hydroelectric power plant located in the Chereksk district of the republic. A weapons cache containing four kilograms of plastic explosives, blasting caps and a concentrated charge (SZ-4) was found in a forest 200 meters away from the plant. The contents of the cache were sent for examination (, November 18).

There have been no recent news reports regarding the Karachai jamaat, which suffered a major blow from numerous campaigns by the authorities and siloviki in 2006-2007, when many of the jamaat’s members were killed. However, on November 11, there was a report about a shootout in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. An unidentified insurgent opened fire at road policemen on duty on Mir Street in the city of Karachaevsk. Three policemen were wounded in the attack (, November 18).

There has been some turbulence in the Republic of Adygea, where President Aslan Thakushinov suggested creating a center of political technologies in order to develop an information policy in the sphere of terrorism prevention (, November 8). The authorities there intend to pay more attention to the issues of Islam and interethnic relations in this North Caucasus region.

The topic of the Pankisi (a gorge in the northeastern corner of Georgia bordering Chechnya and populated by ethnic Chechens) has not been left out of the picture in recent days. According to Armenian sources, Tbilisi is ready to open its borders for transit between Russia and Armenia in exchange for Russia refraining from pressuring Georgia politically over the Pankisi Gorge (, November 19).

Generally, the arrival of winter results in a considerable slow down in insurgent activity in the North Caucasus. However, this is absolutely not the case this year. We may assume that this has to do with the new tactics of the armed resistance as well as harsh counterterrorist operations being conducted by regional authorities.