The situation in Dagestan, one of the largest republics in North Caucasus, has remained markedly tense. Along with the problem of armed resistance, there are several other burning issues, inter-ethnic tensions being one of them. This issue becomes especially sensitive for the people of Dagestan during elections. A huge scandal erupted during the October 11 municipal elections in the city of Derbent in southern Dagestan, where the local residents were electing their mayor. The head of the elections committee, Murad Muradov, was kidnapped on the eve of the elections (www.grani.ru , October 11). Also, due to friction between supporters and opponents incumbent Derbent Mayor Felix Kaziahmedov, only 20 out of 36 polling stations opened on election day, but even they operated erratically (www.regnum.ru, October 11). Vladimir Ustinov, the Russia president’s special envoy in the Southern Federal district, had to fly down to Derbent in order to settle the conflict (www.newsru.com, October 11).
Meanwhile, in the town of Khasavyurt, which is in the western part of the republic, ethnic Chechens that reside in Dagestan held a rally regarding their historical lands. The participants demanded an acceleration of the process of the return of certain territories from the Laks, one of Dagestan’s ethnic groups, to the Chechens, who were evicted from those lands from 1944 to 1956 (www.chechnyatoday.com, November 2). This sparked a discussion of the rights of land ownership, which is a very delicate issue in multi-ethnic Dagestan. Any help coming from Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov is viewed negatively by Dagestan’s population at all levels (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 17).
All this took place against the backdrop of Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev’s confession regarding terrorist activities in Dagestan, when he told the newspaper Kommersant that “the number of attempted murders of law enforcement personnel really increased last year” (www.kommersant.ru, November 26). In his interview, Aliev blamed unnamed ill-wishers from Moscow who, he claimed, are trying to undermine the situation in Dagestan. However, it is interesting that Aliev believes there is a connection between Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the activation of the underground armed resistance in the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan. He emphatically denied the existence of civil resistance in the republic and called all the militants armed bandits who have neither a coherent ideology nor a goal.
Bad news came from Dagestan on the day Aliev’s interview was published in Kommersant. Early on the morning of November 26, the head of the Dagestani interior ministry’s SOBR commando unit, Colonel Shapi Aligadzhiev, was killed. Unidentified individuals attacked Aligadzhiev outside a dormitory on Separatornyi Lane in Makhachkala. Aligadzhiev was wounded in the chest and declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Aligadzhiev had been appointed to his position by Dagestan’s new Interior Minister, Ali Magomedov. On the website of Dagestan’s Sharia Jamaat, his murder was described as a gift for the Muslim holiday Eid-al Adha (the holiday of sacrifice) (www.jamaatshariat.com, November 26).
There were also reports on November 26 that a bomb on the Mozdok-Gazimagomed gas pipeline had been defused, averting what would have been a large-scale terrorist act. The power of the defused explosive device, which had an electronic detonator and a timer, was estimated to equal 10 kilograms of TNT (www.dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 26). That same day, according to the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website, an explosion occurred on a railway line not far from the Tarki station south of the capital of republic Makhachkala stopping train operations on the line for some time.
On the evening of November 26, there was an attempt on the life of another high ranking policeman in Mahachkala. This time the target was the acting chief of the Mahachkala regional criminal office, Colonel Magomed Hadzhalov, who received a gunshot wound when unknown individuals opened fire on him just outside his house (www.itar-tass.com, November 27).
The chief detective, like the SOBR chief, was a high priority target for the militants. Thus, in just one day, members of the jamaat were able to conduct two successful operations against the two high ranking interior ministry officers in Dagestan. Up until November 26, there had been a temporary lull in insurgent activity in Dagestan’s capital due to a loss of connections between the numerous scattered insurgent groups following the death of Umar (Omar) Sheihulaev (emir Muaz), who was the leader of the Dagestani Sharia Jamaat, on February 5. Those connections have apparently been restored.
According to rebel sources, a major outbreak in fighting occurred on November 29 between militants and police units from Chechnya and Dagestan operating jointly in the area of Aktash-Aul (Leninaul) settlement, which is populated predominantly by ethnic Chechens. The militants reported neither their own losses nor the losses among the policemen (www.jamaatshariat.com, November 29).
Interfax reported that in the same area where this fighting erupted, a mine defusing operation was conducted jointly by local police and interior ministry internal troops. According to the news agency, the security forces found and defused eight explosive devices on the border of Chechnya and Dagestan over the period of November 27-29. Dagestan’s interior ministry reported that one serviceman was slightly wounded while defusing an explosive device.
The situation in Dagestan is so critical that there are five candidates for the position of the republic’s president, each of whom could successfully replace the current incumbent. And this is not surprising, given that Mukhu Aliev is a weak leader who used to be a communist functionary. The only advantage of having him in that position is that it maintains the ethnic balance among the holders of the republic’s top posts (www.dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 26).