Violence Accompanies Russia’s May Holidays in the North Caucasus

Russia’s tendency to govern the national republics of the North Caucasus as its patrimonial estates has long been the major cause for uprisings in the region. It is in line with this historical pattern that the chief of the administration of Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, the omnipresent, Vladislav Surkov, decides who should be in charge of the pension fund in Dagestan. At first glance, it might seem that a position like this –which is hardly of primary importance– could easily be decided by local authorities, but the fact that billions of Russian rubles are being poured through the pension fund makes this agency extremely attractive to those who might be willing to use it for dirty business. This is exactly why Surkov became involved in the first place, and now it is incumbent upon him to decide who should run the local “money channel.” Currently, this position is held by Amuchi Amutinov, who happens to be an ethnic Lak, and the chairman of a public organization called the National Cultural Organization of the Lak People, Musa Omarov, recently announced that the Laks intend to organize protests, including rallies to block the Kavkaz federal highway (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/166867/). Laks constitute the fourth-most populous indigenous ethnic group in Dagestan and the quota-based system in the republic compels the authorities to take their interests into account.
Blocking the Kavkaz highway, which passes through Dagestan’s territory from the border with Chechnya to the Azerbaijani frontier, has lately become a significant lever with which to pressure governmental structures. This kind of action by the local population usually elicits an instant reaction from the Russian authorities and that reaction, as a rule, is from very high-ranking officials, most frequently the interior minister of Dagestan or one of the deputies to the head of the Dagestani government.
In the latest incident, on May 7, the Kavkaz federal highway was blocked near the village of Uzun-Otar by protesters demanding that the killers of a Khasavyurt resident, Marat Satybalov, be brought to justice. Satybalov had died from multiple life-threatening injuries in the Khasavyurt city hospital on the morning of May 7, after having been beaten on May 2. More than 600 people took part in the protest rally. Police officers from the local police precinct in the village of Dalym in the republic’s Kazbekovsky district were implicated in the beating. The police officers apparently had not liked the fact that several young people were wearing long beards. That was enough for them to be accused of being Wahhabi (Salafi) sympathizers, and the police officers began to batter them in front of the crowd shouting “beat up the Wahhabis.” An accidental call made by one of the young victims to his relatives in that dire situation saved them from imminent death. The relatives, who themselves were police officers, came to rescue and saved their lives. By the time the relatives arrived the police officers who were beating the bearded men had put a grenade launcher in the victims’ car in an apparent attempt to implicate them as militants (www.dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru, May 7).
Had the victims died of the beatings, they would have been accused of disobeying and resisting the police and the police action itself would have been presented to the world as a successful operation to liquidate a group of militants. But the “police operation” was accidentally shot on camera and was later put out on Dagestan’s only opposition website, called Chernovik (www.chernovik.net, March 12). This is a classic example of police trying to portray their accidental victims as “militants,” and this pattern is characteristic of not only the police in Dagestan, but in the entire North Caucasus region as well.
On May 8, on the eve of the celebrations marking the anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War, unidentified men fired shots from machine guns at a police patrol car in the town of Khasavyurt near the Chechen border. The armed militants escaped unscathed while the police officers were wounded. One of them had to be hospitalized. Meanwhile, on the same day, around midnight, there was a powerful explosion under a freight car near the Tarki-Manas railroad station, 20 kilometers from the Dagestan capital Makhachkala. As a result, the train was derailed and the railroad was significantly damaged. This terrorist act even necessitated a change in the railroad schedule in that direction (www.wek.com.ua, May 9). Moreover, railroad explosions have become routine in Dagestan, where the “rail war” has been a regular part of the militants’ tactics for quite some time. Thus, on May 7, there was a blast at the railroad station in the town of Derbent –in southern Dagestan near the Azerbaijani border– that killed one person and wounded eight others, including three police officers (www.riadagestan.ru, May 10). Railroad lines, as well as central oil and gas pipelines running through Dagestan from Azerbaijan and Russia’s Astrakhan and Stavropol regions, have become easy targets for the militants. Attempts by the Russian authorities to organize around-the-clock surveillance and patrolling of important infrastructure have failed to improve the situation.
On May 9, two explosions rocked the town of Kaspiisk, Dagestan’s Caspian Sea port. The first improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated at 7.00 a.m. when a border guard was carrying out an inspection. The other one went off two hours later 100 meters away from a checkpoint on a Russian marine base. According to local police, two alleged suicide bombers blew themselves up prematurely before reaching their targets. As a result, both the driver and the passenger sitting next to him in the car were killed (www.riadagestan.ru, May 9). A little later, though, this version was downright rejected and it was announced instead that a car “driven by marine brigade serviceman, Rustam Gadzhiev, was blown up by a roadside bomb 100 meters before entering the military base” and that Gadzhiev was killed in the blast (www.gazeta.ru, May 9). By making up a new version, the Russian authorities have shown that they are capable of substituting an invented story that best suits their interests in place of what really occurred. A source in the police department reported that two IED’s had been defused at 10 a.m., local time, on May 9 in a park along Gagarin Street in central Makhachkala.
There have been similar reports recently of attacks in other North Caucasus republics. For example, on May 9 an alleged suicide bomber was reportedly killed in Chechnya when he attempted to break through a police line (www.gazeta.ru, May 9).
Meanwhile, Russian authorities continue with the same awkward, ursine policy throughout the North Caucasus –the region that has long been the most problematic part of Russia and could usher in the beginning of the end of the very existence of the Russian Federation sometime in the near future.