On July 15, a meeting between Dagestan’s Vice Prime Minister, Rizvan Kurbanov, and the relatives of a detained bus driver prevented a possible regional scandal –the blockade of the highway connecting Russia and Azerbaijan. Relatives of Usman Garisov, who was arrested on drug possession and trafficking charges in Azerbaijan in February 2010, said he was arrested when he refused to give a bribe to Azeri border guards (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 16).
This incident shows how easily local Dagestani interests can spill over and cause problems for Russian-Azeri relations, while at the same time highlighting the resolve of some Dagestanis to make themselves heard.
While some people in Dagestan go to the streets in order to attract the attention of the authorities to their problems, others take up arms and start fighting those they regard as foes. Attacks on the military and police personnel have become routine in Dagestan, the biggest republic in the North Caucasus, along with counterterrorism operations conducted by the security services.
A police operation in the northern Dagestani city of Khasavyurt on July 15 killed two suspected insurgents, who had allegedly been involved in attacks on law enforcement officers. One of those killed, 24-year-old Marid Tataev, was the general director of the Vostochny (Eastern) market in Khasavyurt (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 15). His elder brother, Zubair Tataev, was the head of a branch of a gas distribution company in Khasavyurt and a member of the Dagestani parliament who was gunned down by unknown attackers in July 2005 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 5). If Marid Tataev was actually involved in the insurgency, it is yet another major landmark in the saga of the war between the government and the militants, with businessmen now becoming directly involved in armed activities.
Speaking to a gathering of prosecutors in Yessentuki on July 20, Russian Prosecutor-General, Yuri Chaika, expressed concern over the rise in the number of extremism-related crimes in the North Caucasus. Grave crimes, including those in which insurgents were involved, totaled 13,200, or 32 percent of the all crimes committed in the North Caucasus Federal District in the first six months of 2010 (www.interfax.ru, July 20).
Dagestan’s share in the North Caucasus Federal District’s high crime rate is very significant and attacks abound in the republic. Some parts of Dagestan, like Khasavyurt and the capital of the republic Makhachkala, have been very volatile places for years, while the area in the south around Derbent, commonly referred to as Yuzhdag, has been relatively quiet until recently. However, over the past several months, Derbent has seen suicide attacks, massive police operations and protests by human rights activists against arbitrary detention and dubious killings of alleged insurgents by the police.
On July 14, Dagestan’s President, Magomedsalam Magomedov, discussed economic development issues with the presidential envoy to the North Caucasian Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin, in Moscow. The Russian government recently unveiled a new strategy for the development of the North Caucasus that envisages, among other measures, constructing ski resorts in five republics of the region, including Dagestan. Russian authorities have promised massive investment in North Caucasus development projects. However, experts doubt whether Moscow has sufficient funds to implement these ambitious projects, and the projects themselves are seen as economically unjustifiable.
While Moscow promises investment in the region that may never materialize, it has come up with new, more severe measures to punish those accused of aiding and abetting extremists. On July 17, President, Dmitry Medvedev, sent new legislation increasing the sentences for terrorists and their accomplices to the State Duma for approval. Besides increasing the length of jail sentences, the amendments to the Russian criminal code make it easier to convict those accused of providing direct support to terrorists or make public statements supporting them (RIA Novosti, July 17). Rights activists warn that in practice the new amendments may mean that authorities will receive even greater powers to accuse ever more innocent people of extremism and suppress legitimate public dissent.
On July 12, the Russian National Antiterrorist Committee broke the news that six women and two men were arrested in Makhachkala for plotting another wave of suicide attacks in Moscow, similar to those carried out on March 29 in the Moscow metro. One of the arrested men allegedly accompanied the female suicide bombers that blew up themselves in the March 29 attacks. A spokesman for the committee elaborated that four of the women were widows of slain insurgents and that two of them had previously been involved in criminal proceedings. The arrested women had reportedly written farewell letters to their relatives and friends (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 13).
However, on July 20, following energetic advertising of this success by the Russian security services, a source in the North Caucasus Federal District said that one of the detained women was planning to carry out an attack. On July 14, the lawyer for the detained women, Makhach Guchuchaliev, said that only one of them was a widow and none of them ever had been involved in criminal proceedings. According to the lawyer, the police at first even detained a 12-year-old girl, who later was released. He said the whole case was founded on the fact that one female, whose husband was previously killed, had weapons stored in his home (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 14).
Dagestan probably exemplifies Moscow’s new tactics in the North Caucasus, which combine progressive developmental rhetoric and very practical oppression against any dissent.