Village Attacks Signal New Level of Rebel Coordination

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 28

The attack on the village of Muzhichi in Ingushetia on July 8 was noteworthy because it shows that the Chechens have begun to support comrades-in-arms who are within the Emirate but are located in close proximity yet belong to another vilayet (oblast). In this case the actions were in support of the Ingush resistance fighters. Close to two years of inaction by the Chechen militants put the resistance across the North Caucasus under tremendous pressure from the Russian special services, armed forces and police units, with most of the shock absorbed by Ingushetia and Dagestan.

To a large extent the “silence” of Chechen militants was related to problems connected with the reorganization of the resistance movement’s internal mechanisms. The shift from the struggle for independence to the general Islamization of the Caucasus—which was expressed in the declaration of a virtual state entity—the Emirate, in which the core undoubtedly still consists of the Chechen nucleus of the North Caucasian resistance movement, led to a situation in which all national jamaats can find their niche within the Emirate.

The Chechen militants launched their new tactic this spring by implementing some measures first on their territory, which aroused anger and outrage in the pro-Moscow government of Chechnya led by Ramzan Kadyrov, who was tirelessly feeding the press news about the end of war in Chechnya and declaring that the militants holed up in their mountainous hideouts number only a couple dozen at most. In the words of the former Soviet political prisoner and rights activist Elena Sannikova: “In Chechnya one can hear everywhere that there is peace in the republic, while citizens later acknowledge in whispers that they are simply afraid to raise objections” (http://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=4876441FC96DF). Indeed, that those who dare to criticize the authorities and their policies can come under pressure was confirmed in an article in Novaya Gazeta by Vyacheslav Izmailov, in which he quotes a detainee who was arrested by the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities based on a slanderous accusation by Sultan Mirzaev, the mufti of Chechnya (http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/49/10.html). The detainee, Muhamad-Salah Masaev, said that the Russian special services not only witnessed his arrest, but also were fully aware of what was taking place at the detention facility where he was held. Of course, this is not surprising, but this is the first testimony of a live witness who decided to publicize this fact without concealing his identity.

The combat operation in the Ingush village of Muzhichi on July 8 was conducted in a manner similar to the operations that occurred recently in Chechnya (in the villages of Alkhazurovo, Vedeno, Benoi and others). The objective of the operation was to execute village residents suspected by the militants who carried it out in collaboration with the special services. The operation was probably organized by Chechen militants and the local Ingush volunteers. It is likely that the guerrilla brigade was mixed and included both Chechens and Ingush. Furthermore, some of the Ingush participants were probably village residents, as the militants appeared to know well the addresses of the people they were looking for. During the raid one of the militants even recognized a passerby as a local school teacher. Because he was suspected of collaborating with authorities, he was shot on sight (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1225058.html). With regard to the estimates of the size of the guerrilla brigade, it is always advisable to significantly reduce the numbers quoted on the propagandist websites such as Kavkaz Center, which put the number of militants at 100 (http://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2008/07/09/59357.shtml). It should be noted here that the initial posting indicated 30 militants, but seven hours later the Kavkaz Center ideologists apparently decided that this was too small a number and inflated it to 100. In the meantime, those who actually participated in the raid have given a modest estimate of between 12 and 15 people. This last range seems to be closer to the truth, because such operations are usually not carried out by “hundreds” of militants (http://www.watchdog.cz/index.php?show=000000-000008-000001-000492&lang=2). This lower estimate, however, should be probably doubled if we take into account those who provided cover at the intersection of the roads connecting the village with other settlements (Muzhichi-Galashka, Muzhichi-Arshty). Thus, the real figure is probably 25-30 militants at most. Still, it is possible that there was no need to provide cover, because according to the well-established “tradition,” neither police nor military venture out to assist their colleagues at night. The operation in Muzhichi, which is located in the southern part of the Republic of Ingushetia, demonstrated this once again. Instead of rushing to the rescue of the Muzhichi residents, the police officers at the local police station, which is located in the village of Galashka only about five kilometers from Muzhichi, took perimeter defense positions and stayed there until morning. This suggests that the police are still deathly afraid of the militants and that no propaganda effort can compel the military or police to venture out at night in response to repeated phone calls by local residents asking for help.

Literally one day after the attack in Muzhichi there was another armed assault in the settlement Ordzhoninikidzevsakaya, during which unknown gunmen opened automatic fire on an armored UAZ all-terrain vehicle in which members of a combined police brigade from the Central Directorate of Internal Affairs of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast were traveling. After that, on July 11, the residence of the head of the Sunzhensky District Office of Internal Affairs, Bagauddin Chaniev, came under attack and three police officers guarding it were wounded (Ingushetiya.ru, July 11). That same day, unidentified assailants opened fire on police officers at a checkpoint close to the village of Nesterovskaya and a police officer was shot in downtown Nazran. This is just a chronicle of three days and it clearly demonstrates the dogged determination of the resistance movement against the federal center in this tiny republic. The statements by the representative of Ingushetia in the Federation Council, Vasily Likhachev, about the importance of developing a special program for Ingushetia’s socio-economic rehabilitation and the inadmissibility of equating Ingushetia with other regions of the Southern Federal District was an obvious attempt to shift the center of real problem into the virtual, propaganda realm (http://dalpravda.ru/14104-ingushetii-nuzhna-federalnaja-programma.html). That is, everything is done in order not to draw attention to the standoff between the militants and authorities.

In Moscow the opposition to Ingushetia’s president, Marat Zyazikov, decided to restore to the throne Ruslan Aushev and made a sensational declaration about those who have been murdered or disappeared during Zyazikov’s reign. From 2002 to 2007 more than 700 people were killed in Ingushetia. “From 2002 to 2007, 158 people went missing and more than 700 were killed in the republic,” stated the head of the organizational committee of the all-national Ingush rally, Magomed Khazbiev, at a press conference in Moscow (Chechenpress, July 10; North Caucasus Weekly, July 11). The figures cited by Khazbiev are truly enormous for such a small republic (whose territory covers about 4,000 square kilometers) and can serve as a barometer of the people’s dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, when practically every week someone is killed or abducted in a republic in which everyone is more or less related to each other.

The Ingush opposition is weakly organized and lacks a real leader. It is oriented toward old Ingush traditions, on whose basis the opposition hopes to revive the institutions that exhausted themselves two or three centuries ago. The opposition has always appealed to Moscow and does not pose a threat to the Kremlin’s strategists, who know that beyond constant petitions and open letters, they have little to worry about from this so-called Ingush opposition.

It is possible to close ones eyes to what is happening in the North Caucasus, to talk about the end of war there and say the problem of separatism disappeared into the deep underground. Yet this underground is carrying out strikes against the authorities on a daily basis and forcing the federal government to keep armed forces, special services and police detachments in the region in absolutely bloated numbers. For instance, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, during one of his addresses on Chechen television, stated that he was in command of a 27,000-strong Chechen police force. Here we also need to take into account thousands of police units dispatched to this region from other oblasts, territories and regions of Russia. If earlier such detachments were usually sent only to Chechnya, now the geography of their deployment has expanded dramatically, and they are sent not only to Chechnya, but also to Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. The constant mobilization of forces in the region and the on-going expansion of the conflict zone represent a clear answer to those who wish the conflict would simply go away.