Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 163

It is possible to say without exaggeration that a large-scale civil war has begun in Dagestan. The new phase of the conflict began on the evening of September 4 in the Dagestani city of Buinaksk, when a large explosion killed fifty-two people in an apartment building which housed Russian servicemen. Investigators have no doubt the blast was organized by so-called Dagestani “Wahabbis” and their allies in the armed Chechen opposition. It is worth noting that the British newspaper the Times suggested that the Saudi terrorist Osama ben Laden, who has allegedly shown intense interest in recent events in Dagestan, was involved.

The same night, armed forces from Chechnya, among whom were reportedly Arabs, invaded the bordering Dagestani region of Novolaksky and occupied several villages and towns. Fourteen policemen were killed. The Buinaksk bombing, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Pyotr Latyshev claimed in an interview on NTV television’s Hero of the Day program, was a signal for the start of that invasion.

As of earlier today the invaders were located only 10 kilometers from Khasavyurt, one of western Dagestan’s largest cities. Some 30 percent of Khasavyurt’s population are Chechen-Akkints (a Chechen ethnic group) and it is highly probable that they will come to the aid of the invaders. Both the Chechen authorities and the leaders of the Chechen community in Khasavyurt have declared the Khasavyurt region to be Chechen territory. According to Russian military sources, fighters have concentrated in the Chechen region adjacent to Khasavyurt. Ramazan Mamedov, a member of Dagestan’s State Council, told radio station Ekho Moskvy that the Chechen fighters will probably try to open a “third front” (side by side with Novolaksk and in the region of the village of Karamakhi) in Khasavyurt.

The latest events have forced the Kremlin into decisive action. On September 5, Russian aviation bombed population centers in the Nozhai-Yurt region of Chechnya. According to Moscow, the attacks were directed at training camps run by the Chechen terrorist of Jordanian extraction, Khattab. The Chechen authorities claimed that the air attacks killed a minimum of twenty-five civilians. Official Djohar characterized the actions of the federal forces as the start of a new Russian aggression (NTV, RTR, ORT, September 5-6; Ekho Moskvy, The Times, September 6).

These latest events in Dagestan have aroused sharp criticism both from journalists and from politicians on both sides of the fence. The newspaper Novaya gazeta has reported that federal forces allowed the Chechen fighters to retreat in trucks from Dagestan’s Botlikhsk region, which gave the Chechens the opportunity to prepare for new attacks. According to State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, the monstrous helplessness of the Russian forces in Dagestan suggests that someone in Moscow is deliberately trying to draw Russia into a new war in Chechnya. Seleznev fingered Boris Berezovsky as a possibility.

The sharpest criticism of Moscow, however, came from Dagestan. Official Makhachkala called on President Boris Yeltsin to take the situation in Dagestan under his personal control. According to Ramazan Abdulatipov–a Russian government minister without portfolio and an ethnic Avar (the largest ethnic group in Dagestan)–the Dagestanis’ patience has reached an end, and if the Kremlin continues to demonstrate helplessness, the inhabitants of the republic will take the situation into their own hands and throw both the Chechen guerrillas and the Russian forces out of Dagestan (NTV, RTR, Novaya gazeta, September 6).