Transfer of Suspected Militants to Moscow Points to Poor Intelligence on Insurgents

On April 27, the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website reported that suspected militants from Ingushetia were now being tortured at Lefortovo, one of the Moscow’s top security prisons. The website indicated that as many as ten suspected militants had been transferred to the FSB headquarters in Moscow. According to the relatives of the detainees, in the process of vigorous interrogation, some of them had their ribs broken. At the same time, the interrogators severely restricted lawyers’ access to the suspects. Moreover, a source close to the investigators told the website that suffocation, beatings and electric shocks were applied repeatedly to extract confessions from the suspects. According to the source, the threat of sexual assault and its public exposure were also used to make the detainees to plead guilty (
The ten suspects were captured on March 2-3 in a special police operation in the Ingush town of Ekazhevo, which is in the vicinity of Ingushetia’s main city, Nazran. The authorities suspect the group of having staged the attack on the Nevsky Express train on November 27, 2009. Twenty-seven people were killed and 90 injured when a blast derailed the elite Russian commuter train connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg (Kommersant, April 4).
The transfer of such a large group of detainees to Moscow and what appears to be their torture in prison there marks a significant shift in Russian policies in the North Caucasus. The move exposes the weakness of Russia’s rule in the North Caucasus, most notably in Ingushetia, where it cannot rely on the local police to the extent that it has to send the suspects to Moscow for interrogation.
Although according to the Russian law, a suspect should be interrogated and tried in the place where he committed the crime, in this case the detainees were not sent to the Tver region, where the explosion took place, but to Moscow. Also a Moscow district court ruled on the suspects’ transfer the day after their arrest and nearly two months later it is still not confirmed whether these men were the perpetrators of the crime. In fact, their relatives have insisted the militant suspects, nine of whom bear the same surname and are related to each other, were captured randomly (, April 27).
The well-known ideologist of the insurgency in the North Caucasus Said Buryatsky was killed along with several other suspected militants during the same police operation in Ekazhevo on March 2-3. Yet the much hailed success of the Russian security services did not prevent the attacks on the Moscow metro on March 29, which claimed 40 lives.
Rights activists have criticized the Russian law enforcement agencies for their brutal methods of suppressing the insurgency that often involved innocent civilians and almost always were in breach of Russia’s own laws. The rights activists and analysts alike have argued that when the law enforcement agents killed innocent civilians or broke the laws they contributed to the expansion of the conflict. However, the recent actions that the Russian government has taken, and police practice, reveal a new, much more troubling pattern. It appears that the Russian security services do not understand the new generation of insurgent leaders and, most strikingly, the authorities do not possess the good, on the ground intelligence needed to stage precise, well-targeted police operations. This, in turn, indicates that the gap between the local population and Moscow in terms of how they view the situation is widening. Of course, this is especially characteristic of Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan, and to a significantly less extent in the other North Caucasian republics.
This explains a large part of the indiscriminate and often unapologetic killings committed by Russian law enforcement personnel. Following the suicide bomb attacks in Moscow on March 29, North Caucasus insurgency leader, Doku Umarov, stated that they were carried out to avenge the killing of civilians in a police operation in vicinity of Arshty and Dattykh villages on the border area between Chechnya and Ingushetia on February 11. Even though the Russian security services hailed the killing of 18 alleged insurgents as a great success, even they had to eventually recognize that they killed at least four innocent civilians during that operation. Some Russian media outlets went a step further by claiming that all of those killed were innocent civilians (, April 1).
What most of the Russian observers chose not to notice, however, was that the police did not even attempt to investigate the deaths of at least several villagers killed by the Russian security services.
Russia’s political leadership has resolved to take extraordinary steps to stabilize the North Caucasus. Most notably, the map of the country’s federal districts was redrawn to allow the government to focus exclusively on the needs of the North Caucasian republics’ development. President Dmitry Medvedev stated that the government and corporate investments in the North Caucasus are currently worth more than $7 billion (RIA Novosti, April 26). So, Moscow is genuinely interested in pacifying the region using not only the stick, but also carrots. Yet, despite the obvious connection between the law enforcement abuses of power and the exasperation these evoke among the locals, law enforcement has practically acted unconstrained up until now.
It may well be the case that Russian law enforcement simply cannot do a better job than eliminating every suspected insurgent and in the process often killing innocents. The general population in some areas of the North Caucasus has become so antagonized that the Russian security services are unable to obtain high quality intelligence on the activities of the armed underground. Instead of recognizing this embarrassing fact, Russian officials seem to pretend that indiscriminate killings actually show the strength of the security services, which should supposedly evoke awe among North Caucasians and Russians alike. However, as the perception is manifestly distorted, it can hardly contribute to a proper policy response to the spiraling regional insurgency.