Archive for January, 2010


Dagestan on the hedge of total chaos

I was one of the first to talk about Dagestan while Western media were focused on Georgia. I was definitely right! The situation in Dagestan, week after week, is slowly getting out of control.

When you had local mafias to islamism, it brings highly inflamable instability. Where will it stop? Can Russia halt this vicious circle? Not sure!

Last week here in the capital of the southern republic of Dagestan, the wind whipped uncollected garbage in every direction and tens of thousands of citizens lost heat, electricity and water.

Dagestan’s violence disrupts Makhachkala’s tourism plans.

The traffic police, fearful of another suicide bombing, sealed off the neighborhood before holding their routine troop reviews. The vice speaker of Dagestan’s parliament narrowly escaped an attack with automatic weapon fire from a passing car.

In other words, nothing out of the ordinary.

Pressure has been rising steadily in Dagestan, where clan wars intersect with a growing Islamic fundamentalism and a deepening sense of public alienation. All those threats factor into a question the Kremlin has to answer in the coming days: Who, in the labyrinth of Dagestani politics, will bring peace if he is named president?

Ten years ago, Vladimir V. Putin, then Russia’s president, cemented his hold on Russian politics by showing he could bring the Caucasus to heel. The mechanism was force; after a second war against Chechnya’s separatists, he installed a strongman, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, as president and granted him the power to crush internal opposition. But a year of rising violence in the region has made it clear that Moscow’s control is more tenuous than it seemed.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Dagestan, where militants have stepped up their attacks while clan groupings have fought, sometimes murderously, over the republic’s resources.

“With Chechnya, the main headache is a strong leader who is not controllable, but at least he is in charge,” said Pavel K. Baev, a senior researcher at the International Peace Research Institute, which is based in Oslo. “In Dagestan, the problem is that there is a loss of control that is moving toward violence of another kind, which is stronger and stronger, and spiced with Islamic fundamentalism.”

“There is no other kind of order,” Mr. Baev said. “Only the fundamentalists can present themselves as honest men.”

Dagestan, one of the most heavily subsidized of Russia’s regions, should be able to support itself. It has oil and gas reserves, like neighboring Azerbaijan, and once lucrative vineyards and fisheries. The sandy coastline itself, stretching 250 miles along the Caspian Sea, should be a moneymaker in a beach-starved colossus like Russia.

But the beaches around Makhachkala (pronounced ma-HACH-ka-la), a city of 466,000, offer a primer in what has gone wrong. Tycoons have chopped up much of the coast for private mansions, and local residents complain that the public beaches that remain are too dirty and ill kept to enjoy. As for tourists, Makhachkala’s mayor, Said D. Amirov — who now uses a wheelchair as a result of an assassination attempt — put it this way: “You can’t develop tourism when you have a murder every day.”

There has always been competition for power in Dagestan, which is cobbled together out of more than 30 ethnic groups, but with the Soviet collapse it turned violent. The first time an official was assassinated, in 1992, people were so outraged that thousands demonstrated to demand that the killers be punished. Over the next decade, though, killings of officials, religious leaders, lawyers, journalists and police officers became commonplace.

In a republic of 2.5 million people — roughly the population of Brooklyn — armored cars and bodyguards have become so standard that Magomed-Rasul M. Omarov did a double take recently when he noticed the agriculture minister walking down the street without a security detail. It was a sight he had not seen for years.

“He looks like a white crow,” said Mr. Omarov, who works as press secretary for the mufti of Dagestan, whose deputy died from a gunshot to the head last May.

“People have no hope in law enforcement or in other protection or in justice anymore,” he said. “If one case was brought to justice, you could say there was some hope.”

It falls to Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s president, to try to calm the waters. The first term of Dagestan’s president, Mukhu G. Aliyev, ends on Feb. 20. At the time of his appointment, Mr. Aliyev raised great hopes in a populace furious over corruption; a longtime Communist Party figure, he was known for steadfastly refusing bribes and lived, famously, in a modest three-room apartment.

But four years later, Mr. Aliyev’s critics say he has been too weak to control the factions beneath him. It is clear that the calm of his early presidency is gone. Three hundred people died in violent attacks in Dagestan in 2009 — more than in either the nearby republics of Ingushetia or Chechnya — and the number of attacks were more than double the 2008 figure, according to statistics compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Everybody understands that his time is ending,” said Marko Shakhbanov, editor in chief of Novoye Delo, a newspaper that has been critical of Mr. Aliyev’s government. “He is a good person, but a good person is not a profession.”

Mr. Medvedev could reappoint Mr. Aliyev, 69, or choose a new face like Magomed I. Abdullayev, 48, a deputy prime minister who, like Mr. Medvedev, studied and lectured at the law department of St. Petersburg University. Uncertainty over the question has gripped Makhachkala since mid-November, and some complain that it fueled a spike in violence in December and January.

Mr. Medvedev “is making decisions on several governors, but this is one of the most complicated of all,” Mr. Baev, the researcher, said. “In Moscow, they cannot pay much attention to the fact that it’s destabilizing, it’s eroding, it’s getting worse. They don’t know what to do.”

The stakes are great, he said, because public disgust over corruption is driving young people to embrace fundamentalism.

Zaipul S. Osmanov, who works in a Makhachkala employment center, said he has watched in bafflement as his neighbor’s sons — children he has known since they were born — disappeared into “the forest,” as people here refer to underground militant networks. The oldest disappeared for a year. Mr. Osmanov heard he was studying abroad, and when he returned, “the second brother was infected.”

The first was killed in July, and his brother in October — Mr. Osmanov did not know how, but he said he assumed that they were killed in a suicide operation or a police raid. His neighbor has two surviving sons, still in their teens, but Mr. Osmanov expects to hear the same news about them before too long.

“I don’t think they have a way to retreat,” he said. “There is no way back from the forest.”


Ukraine: whoever wins, it will be a victory for Russia

It’s nothing to say that Russian governement (and probably especially Vladimir Putin) is very happy about presidential elections in Ukraine. First, it means of course that they won’t have to deal anymore with pro- Western incumbent Viktor Yushchenko. But the second source of satisfaction is to see that the two contestants are much more friendly and warm toward their big Russian brother.

Russia will be the only certain winner in Ukraine’s presidential election on Jan. 17, as pro- Western incumbent Viktor Yushchenko is expected to bow out to rivals seen as more friendly toward Moscow, analysts said.

“For Russia it can be called a win-win situation, since any result is better than the current situation,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. “Whoever becomes the next president will be much less ideological and more businesslike.”

Viktor Yanukovych, backed by Russia in Ukraine’s 2004 election, is the front-runner with 33.6 percent support, followed by Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko with 19.2 percent, according to the Kiev-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation. The two are likely to face off in a second round on Feb. 7 if no candidate wins 50 percent of first-round votes.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who as president promoted Yanukovych in the last election, is abstaining from an endorsement this time as polls show support for Yushchenko, the hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, at less than 4 percent.

Russian-Ukrainian relations deteriorated under Yushchenko, who needled Russia with a push to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and appeals to Ukrainian nationalism. The Kremlin has curbed natural-gas deliveries to Ukraine three times in five years, withheld a new ambassador to Kiev and accused Yushchenko of supplying arms to Georgia during Russia’s five-day war with its southern neighbor in August 2008.

‘Sincere Policy’

“We expect the candidate chosen by the majority of Ukrainian voters to carry out a responsible, open, respectful and sincere policy toward Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in televised remarks today.

Putin, who traveled to Ukraine to campaign for Yanukovych in 2004, has since forged a close relationship with Timoshenko, personally negotiating an end to last year’s gas cut with her. President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s protege, froze relations with his Ukrainian counterpart in August, blaming Yushchenko for “anti-Russian” policies.

Putin said in a live call-in show last month that he wasn’t supporting Timoshenko in the elections and reminded viewers that his United Russia party has “special relations” with Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

“Timoshenko knows that Ukraine is turning back toward Russia and that if she does not join the pro-Russian movement, she will be crushed by it, like Yushchenko,” Stratfor, the Austin, Texas-based intelligence consultancy, said in a report today. “Russia knows that she is not a true believer in the pro-Russian cause, like Yanukovych, but that if they make it worth her while, she will support the Kremlin.”

Russia, which traces its statehood to medieval Kiev, shares close economic, linguistic and religious ties to its neighbor. Without Ukraine, Russia stops being an empire with a foothold in Europe, former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in his 1997 book “The Grand Chessboard.”

Gas Exports

Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in Crimea and 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe go through Ukrainian territory. After Yushchenko’s election, Putin began to push Nord Stream and South Stream, pipeline projects to Europe designed to bypass Ukraine.

Still, Russia shouldn’t expect Ukraine’s next president to be a pushover as gas contracts and the future of the Black Sea fleet will continue to be contentious issues, according to Lukyanov.

“Anybody will be more flexible and not provoke Moscow as much as Yushchenko,” Lukyanov said. “But even Yanukovych won’t turn out to be a puppet meeting Russia’s every demand.”


Suicide bombing in Daghestan: an ever deteriorating situation!!!

The worst seems the rule in Daghestan those days. This time, a suicide bomber tried to blow himself into a police headquarters… Unfortunately, this is not the first time I report this type of situation in Daghestan.

The bomber tries to crash an SUV into a traffic police headquarters but is thwarted by officers who ram a truck into the vehicle. The explosives go off, killing the officers, who are hailed as heroes.

January 06, 2010|By Megan K. Stack

  • Russian Police
  • Reporting from Moscow — A suicide bomber targeted a traffic police headquarters in the restive Russian republic of Dagestan on Wednesday, killing five officers and injuring 19 more.

    As a small, Russian-made SUV careened toward the building about 8 a.m., a team of police rammed their vehicle into the bomber’s. The explosives went off on impact, killing all the police officers in the truck but preventing the bomber from reaching his target.

    The death toll would have been much higher had the officers not intervened, officials in Dagestan said. The men were being hailed as heroes.