Conflicts in Russia’s North Caucasus claimed more than 300 deaths during the first half of 2009, roughly half of whom were identified as militants, just under a third siloviki, and a fifth peaceful civilians, figures that are especially troubling because they are approximately the same as those of a year earlier.
Kavkaz-uzel.ru, a portal which seeks to provide information on the situation across that region, offered at the end of last week a summary of the first half of 2009 in the republics and krays there. That summary fully justifies the portal’s conclusion that “the situation in the North Caucasus remains extremely tense”.
The most unstable part of the North Caucasus is Ingushetia where during the first six months of this year, the militants attacked law enforcement personnel 58 times – about once every three days – leaving 37 uniformed personnel dead and 79 wounded. In addition, more than 39 civilians were killed, with ten kidnappings of whom four were found dead.
According to the portal, the siloviki conducted “no fewer than 15 special operations” against militants in that republic, five of which were in the forests but ten were in populated areas. And five times between January and June, the authorities introduced a counter-terrorist operation regime in one or another parts of the republic.
The situation in Chechnya was only slightly less bad, despite the upbeat coverage of it in Moscow and Grozny. During the first half of 2009, there were a minimum of 116 special operations conducted by the siloviki and 21 terrorist acts. At least 34 supposed militants were killed, as were 11 civilians.
In Daghestan, the situation was similar. During the first half of the year, more than 30 siloviki were killed and more than 40 were wounded in the course of operations against the militants, during “no fewer than seven counter-terrorist operations, four special operations, and 12 firefights.
Elsewhere in the North Caucasus, the figures were equally bleak, but the most disturbing observation offered by the analysts at Kavkaz-uzel.ru was the following: These statistics, it said “are little distinguished” from the data the site was able to compile for the same period a year earlier.
On the one hand, that suggests that the situation may not be deteriorating as much as some of the high profile killings and attacks have led some analysts to conclude. But on the other, these figures, which the portal offers not in support of any particular conclusion, show that the situation in the North Caucasus is not improving as Moscow routinely now claims.
And those alternative possibilities in turn provide the context needed to evaluate the arguments of various officials and analysts concerning developments and trends not only about particular republics in that region but also about the general course of the fighting in the North Caucasus as a whole.
The past week has featured a plethora of such comments. In an article in “NG-Regiony,” Milrad Fatullayev argues that “the activity of the militants in the Russian Caucasus has grown sharply,” with the regime’s opponents “as before coordinating their actions” against the siloviki and the powers that be.
On Ekho Moskvy’s “Vlast’” program, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said that Moscow has lost effective control over several republics in the North Caucasus. “Chechnya, he said, “de facto is not part of Russia,” a situation that reflects the Kremlin’s own “sowing of dragon seeds” in the area which are now coming to poisonous flower not only in Chechnya but across the region ().
And an article in the current issue of Moscow’s “New Times” suggested that the North Caucasus is moving back toward a new “Medieval period,” although the author said that he could not specify “which century. And that as a result, it has become “an enclave living according to its own laws”.
But the most accurate description of the situation was offered by Ramazan Abdulatipov, the president of the Assembly of the Peoples of Russia. He said that despite the fact that Russia had first declared victory in the North Caucasus 145 years ago, no one is celebrating anything like that now because in fact the war goes on.
Window on Eurasia
Paul Goble is one of the sharpest and best informed analysts on Russia and the Caucasus. Mr Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. While there, he launched the “Window on Eurasia” series.
Prior to joining the faculty there in 2004, Mr Goble worked as Professor at Estonia’s University of Tartu; Special Advisor to the Director of the International Broadcasting Bureau; Senior Advisor to the Director of Voice of America; Assistant Director for Broadcasting and Director of Communications at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Special Advisor on Soviet Nationality Problems at the U.S. Department of State; Deputy Director of the Research Department of Radio Liberty; and Analyst on Soviet Nationalities at the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and Central Intelligence Agency.
Mr Goble writes frequently on ethnic and religious issues and has edited five volumes on ethnicity and religion in the former Soviet space. Trained at Miami University in Ohio and the University of Chicago, he has been decorated by the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for his work in promoting Baltic independence and the withdrawal of Russian forces from those formerly occupied lands.