The North Caucasus is increasingly reminiscent of the zone of military conflict where the situation is gradually approaching a critical point. News stories coming from the region – even those covered by official Russian media, the task of which is by no means to depict the actual reality on the ground – resemble military chronicles (www.livejournal.ru/themes/id/25322).
According to data reported by independent outlets, which base their findings exclusively on open source information, the number of those killed and wounded in the North Caucasus since the beginning of March 2011 is much higher than in the same period last year. Against the background of a critically deteriorating situation, the government-controlled Russian media are actively engaged in propagandizing the acquisition by little-known soccer teams in the war-torn region, especially in Chechnya and Dagestan, of world-famous sports celebrities – such as Dutch Ruud Gullit as coach of the Grozny-based Terek soccer team and Brazilian Roberto Carlos as a premier player on the Makhachkala-based Anzhi. It was all aimed at changing the image of these republics and to show, at the cost of vast financial infusions into these teams, that the North Caucasus is not as perilous as it might seem. This means that the political dimension of the issue is much more important than promoting football (www.itogi.ru/sport/2011/11/163016.html).
Meanwhile, as the United Nations Security Council resolved to include Doku Umarov, the North Caucasus rebel leader and the Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, on the consolidated list of individuals against whom sanctions are imposed for their links with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, the situation in the North Caucasus continued to run its own course (www.rosbalt.ru/main/2011/03/11/827593.html). Not a single bank in the world has yet announced the freezing of Umarov’s financial assets, probably due to the fact that he hardly has any bank accounts. The formal international sanctions against Umarov should be seen as a symbolic gesture by the United States to accommodate some of Russia’s demands in exchange for concessions on other disputed issues, where Washington would like to see Moscow if not as an ally, then at least not as an enemy. Nobody noticed any change in the status of Doku Umarov, and the international sanctions will probably have little bearing on him personally, not least because of the scope of activity is limited to Chechnya and Ingushetia.
The murder of Lieutenant-Colonel Magudin Urdikhanov, who served in the department of personal security in Dagestan’s Interior Ministry, was yet another blow to the Russian law enforcement authorities. He was killed near the village of Khapilov on the evening of March 12 (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/dagestan/1382766.html#ixzz1GcOwJLlX). Seven law enforcement officers were injured and hospitalized as the result of a shooting at the local police precinct in the Dagestani town of Kizilyurt on the evening of February 15. Another attack on a police station was perpetrated on March 14, and after the shooting a car blew up near the building (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/182334/). Around the same time, three suspected militants were killed in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala after they refused to stop at the request of law enforcement officers.
In all probability, a recent bombing of a train in the suburbs of Makhachkala was also carried out by North Caucasus rebels. In early February 2011, a decision was made to halt the movement of trains at night through the territory of Chechnya and Dagestan for security reasons. The new schedule allows trains to run from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. only. However, the latest train bombing (the third this year alone) occurred at 7:00 a.m., which raises serious questions about the safety of trains traveling through Dagestan even during the daylight hours. According to experts, the power of the explosive device detonated near the village of Shamkhal, a suburb of Makhachkala, was equivalent of three kilograms of TNT (www.rg.ru/2011/03/10/reg-jugrossii/podriv-anons.html).
Meanwhile, not all of this should be attributed solely to the actions of militants. Given the multi-ethnic nature of North Caucasus society, the struggle for influence in local parliaments between clans, ethnic groups and criminal gangs usually intensifies on the eve of local elections. In the early hours of March 11, Zapir Isaev, a deputy of the assembly of the city of Kaspiisk, was wounded and hospitalized in the Dagestani capital (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/dagestan/1382765.html#ixzz1GcFvYObk). That same night, unidentified gunmen shot Alibulat Gasanov, a candidate to Dagestan’s National Assembly, in the Kaytagsky district. He was also taken to the hospital with minor injuries, but his younger brother Alikurban, who was driving the car at the time that it was attacked, died from wounds on the spot (www.rg.ru/2011/03/12/reg-jugrossii/kaspiysk-anons.html). Even more scandalous was the murder of Zaur Zeushev on the eve of the elections in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. He was the director of Kavkazcement, the largest cement factory in the North Caucasus that generates the bulk of revenues for the budget of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (http://echo.msk.ru/news/757461-echo.html). In this case as well, the murder was related not to the ongoing insurgency but to the fierce struggle for limited resources and economic spheres of influence. Against the backdrop of the recent change of leadership in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, it was anticipated that the redistribution of spheres of influence would take place. Shortly before his murder, Zeushev reported to law enforcement agencies that he had received several anonymous warnings from his adversaries.
While in Chechnya the local authorities are trying to introduce their own universal dress code for all government employees and students in public places, which should morph Chechnya into a Muslim republic (www.voanews.com/russian/news/Chechnya-dress-code-2011-03-10-117769733.html), in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia the local boss, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, has decided to do away with all of those who oppose his policies, including Magomed Daurbekov, the vice chairman of the local Supreme Court, who is supposed to be independent from the executive under the Russian constitution. But Daurbekov is not alone on the list of “public enemies.” The vast list also includes human rights organizations of the republic, accused by Yevkurov of “ingratiating themselves with the militants” (http://ingushetiyaru.org/news/22112.html). Thus, here too we are witnessing an attack on those trying to prevent human rights violations committed by the authorities or with the knowledge of the authorities. This is an absolutely losing game for the government. The more the Russian power structure behaves in an authoritarian manner, the more people – and not only members of the armed resistance movement – go deep underground.
The situation in the North Caucasus portends the intensification and deepening of the conflict between the Russian authorities and the population of the region, which will undoubtedly lead to new outbreaks of violence and a corresponding increase in the number of victims. Just in the first half of March alone there were dozens of victims resulting from the confrontation between the authorities and the armed opposition as the North Caucasus slips further and further into chaos.