Website: Few Improvements in the North Caucasus in 2008

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 1

In a review of last year’s events in the North Caucasus, Kavkazky Uzel wrote on January 7 that 2008 saw neither “stabilization” nor a successful conclusion to “the war on separatism,” the “uprooting of extremism,” or an end to the problem of kidnapping.

“This was indicated in the reports that appeared in the media throughout last year of armed clashes, terrorist acts, [and] attacks on representatives of the power structures from the particularly unstable regions—Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya—which contrasted with the authorities’ assurances about having control over the situation,” the website wrote.

Kavkazky Uzel reported that, according to its data, 226 law-enforcement personnel were killed and at least 420 wounded in militant attacks, shootouts and explosions in the North Caucasus last year. In addition, the website reported, at least 80 rebel weapon caches were discovered, at least 129 terrorist acts were carried out and at least 64 explosive devices were discovered and defused in the region in 2008.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, more than 65 civilians were killed and at least 139 wounded during special operations by security forces and attacks by unidentified persons in the North Caucasus last year. In addition, there were 73 armed clashes and attacks by unidentified persons that resulted in no deaths or injuries.

The website added: “It should be noted that the ranks of the militants also sustained palpable losses as a result of more than 130 special operations: as is clear from reports by law-enforcement bodies, during the year in the North Caucasus, no fewer than 315 militants and people suspected of participation in illegal armed formations were detained, and 231 people that the power structure employees counted as belonging to the illegal armed formations were killed.”

Kavkazky Uzel reported that while General Nikolai Rogozhkin, commander of the federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops, said at the end of March 2008 that a total of 400-500 militants were operating in the North Caucasus, its own data showed that 546 members of “illegal armed formations” in the North Caucasus were killed last year. This would suggest that Rogozhkin had seriously underestimated the size of  the rebel forces.

According to the website, at least 45 people were kidnapped in the North Caucasus last year. The phenomenon of abductions was highlighted in a documentary film, “Missing Lives: Disappearance and Impunity in North Caucasus,” which was produced by the WITNESS Media Archive and the Memorial human rights group.

At least 61 terrorist acts were carried out and another 31 were averted in Ingushetia last year, Kavkazky Uzel reported. In addition, at least 15 special operations were carried out in Ingushetia during which 46 wanted militants were killed and more than 30 apprehended, while at least seven rebel weapons caches were discovered. The website quoted the deputy head of the investigations department of the Investigative Committee for Ingushetia, Usman Belkharoev, as saying that 167 law-enforcement officers and servicemen were wounded in attacks in the republic last year, compared with 80 in 2007. According to Kavkazky Uzel, 70 employees of security structures were killed in Ingushetia in 2008, compared with 32 the previous year. In addition, at least 20 civilians were killed and 46 wounded during special operations by security forces or at the hands of unidentified attackers in Ingushetia in 2008, while 24 people were kidnapped.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, at least 34 law-enforcement employees were killed and at least 75 wounded in Dagestan in 2008. The website quoted the republic’s minister for ethnic policy, information and external relations, Garun Kurbanov, as saying that there were 98 attacks on law-enforcement personnel in Dagestan last year. At last 49 suspected militants and four suspected rebel accomplices were killed in 17 special operations in the republic last year, while only nine suspected rebels and four suspected rebel accomplices were captured. At least 14 blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were registered in Dagestan last year and another 14 IEDs were found and defused.

Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov said at the end of November that seven extremist groups, each comprised of up to 15 people, were operating in the republic.

In Chechnya, at least 97 policemen and servicemen were killed and at least 138 wounded last year, Kavkazky Uzel reported. A total of 39 terrorist acts were carried out and at least another ten thwarted, while at least 59 rebel caches containing weapons and explosives were discovered. Twenty-five Chechen civilians were killed and another 25 wounded in shootouts between militants and law-enforcement personnel or attacks by unidentified persons, while another 16 such attacks took place resulting in no casualties. According to the website, 15 people were kidnapped in Chechnya last year.

Kavkazky Uzel counted a total of 73 special operations conducted in Chechnya last year, which it said resulted in the killing of 115 people whom the authorities suspected to be militants. Another 234 people were detained on suspicion either of participation in “illegal armed formations” or being rebel accomplices. Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov put the number of rebels killed in the republic at 61, with 327 rebels detained and another 82 surrendering.

As Kavkazy Uzel noted, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov issued his latest victory announcement on December 28, declaring that practically all “cells of terror and extremism” in the republic had been “neutralized.”

According to Kavkazky Uzel’s count, at least six law-enforcement employees were killed and 12 wounded in North Ossetia in 2008. The website noted that while the number of attacks in North Ossetia was lower than in neighboring republics, the victims included a number of top officials. Sergei Takoev, the head of North Ossetia’s presidential and governmental administration, was shot and wounded last January. The head of the republic’s anti-organized crime directorate (UBOP), Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Mestaev, was murdered last March. Police Lieutenant-Colonel Ilya Kasradze was shot to death in September, while the head of the North Ossetian Interior Ministry’s criminal investigations department, police Colonel Vitaly Cheldiev, was murdered on October 1. Mairam Tamaev, the deputy mayor of North Ossetia’s capital, Vladikavkaz, was wounded in an explosion on October 22.

Meanwhile, the bombing of a passenger van in Vladikavkaz on November 6 killed 12 people and wounded 43. On November 26, Vladikavkaz’s mayor, Vitaly Karaev, was shot to death near his home in the center of North Ossetia’s capital. Furthermore, on December 31, former Vladikavkaz Mayor Kazbek Pagiev was shot to death. A week earlier, Pagiev had resigned from the post of vice-premier in North Ossetia’s government.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, there were four cases of people being abducted by members of unidentified “power structures” in North Ossetia during 2008.

On December 10, North Ossetia’s chief prosecutor, German Shtadler, said that crime in the republic was clearly worsening, with terrorist acts being carried out and a 15-percent increase in the number of “willful homicides.” He said that of particular concern was a “threatening” increase in the number of attacks on law-enforcement personnel and the heads of local self-government bodies—attacks which, he said, were aimed at “destabilizing the situation in both the republic and in the North Caucasus in general.”

Eleven terrorist acts were committed in Kabardino-Balkaria last year, one of which was thwarted, Kavkazky Uzel reported. According to the website, eight rebel weapons caches were discovered in the republic, where security forces conducted at least six special operations in which seven persons accused by the authorities of being rebels were killed and 15 suspected insurgents were captured. The office of Kabardino-Balkaria’s chief prosecutor reported last year that 50 inhabitants of the republic were wanted for “extremist and terrorist activities,” 14 of whom were being sought internationally.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, 13 law-enforcement employees were killed and 18 wounded in insurgent attacks in Kabardino-Balkaria last year. Among those killed was the head of republic’s anti-organized crime directorate (UBOP), Anatoly Kyarov (North Caucasus Weekly, January 17, 2008).

Kavkazky Uzel concluded that there are grounds to think that the ranks of the rebel underground in Kabardino-Balkaria are growing. “Today, nobody can say exactly how many militants are hiding in the woods and mountains of the republic,” the website wrote. “Unemployment and a lack of jobs in the districts of the KBR [Kabardino-Balkaria Republic] are contributing to the departure of youth for the woods and mountains.” At the same time, the website quoted Valery Khatazhukov, head of the KBR public human rights center, as saying that relations between the republic’s authorities and its Muslim community are “stabilizing.” “We are not recording instances of beatings [or] torture, although there are still instances of illegal detention,” he said.

Kavkazky Uzel noted that there were also terrorist acts, killings and detentions of suspected militants and the deaths of civilians last year in other parts of southern Russia—including Rostov Oblast, Krasnodar Krai, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai—but fewer than in Chechnya, Dagestan or Ingushetia. According to the website, human rights activists believe the main reasons for the increasingly difficult situation in the North Caucasus are “torture, extra-judicial killings and preventive violence on the part of the siloviki” (see Mairbek Vatchagaev’s article in this issue).