Putin has lost control in the Caucasus

The New York Times reports, under the headline “With Breakdown of Order in Russia’s Dagestan Region, Fear Stalks Police”:

At a certain point last summer, when snipers on rooftops began picking off police officers, Col. Mukhtar Mukhtarov’s wife blocked the door with her body and refused to let him leave home in his uniform.

For 25 years, it had been one of the great joys of Colonel Mukhtarov’s life to walk the streets in his red-striped police cap. But by last summer all that had been turned so thoroughly on its head that he quietly went back to his bedroom to change into civilian clothes.

His son Gassan, a 20-year-old beat officer, has known the job only this way, thick with fear. He changes in his car outside the station house. Aware that militants often follow police officers for days before killing them — his neck sometimes prickling with the sense of being watched — Gassan Mukhtarov swaps license plates with friends to make himself harder to track. He is still not safe. He knows that.

“They’ve known who I was from the first day,” he said.

It is all a measure of how thoroughly order has broken down in the Russian region of Dagestan, in the North Caucasus. Fifty-eight police officers were killed in attacks here last year, according to the republic’s Interior Ministry, many of them while running errands or standing at their posts. Last month alone, according to press reports, 13 officers were killed in bombings and gangland-style shootings.

The gunmen — some combination of Islamist militants, alienated young people, ordinary criminals and foot soldiers in private armies — just melt back into the city, to be described in the next day’s news reports as “persons unknown.”

As the number of attacks doubled, to 201 last year from 100 in 2008, the authorities tried to offer relief. The blue stripes were removed from most police cars and officers were told they no longer had to wear uniforms on the way to work. In a weird touch, every traffic officer in Makhachkala (pronounced ma-HACH-ka-la), the capital city, is now backed up by a riot policeman in camouflage, Kalashnikov assault rifle at the ready.

Even so, recruits are under pressure from friends and relatives to quit, said Gassan Mukhtarov, who is a lieutenant. He said he could not really blame them.

“If you had a son, would you let him work as a policeman?” he asked. “I wouldn’t let my own son do it.”

The police occupy a miserable place in Russian society, where many citizens see officers as so corrupt and brutal they prefer to settle their disputes alone. But no environment is more hostile than the North Caucasus, where occasional clashes with militants have intensified into something closer to guerrilla warfare.

Russia has been trying to wipe out the militant underground since the late 1990s, when separatists moved into Dagestan from bases in neighboring Chechnya. But because Moscow prefers to cast the conflict as a law enforcement problem rather than a political one, much of the burden of fighting it has been shunted onto the police, said Alexei V. Malashenko, a Caucasus specialist at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

That fight has left behind a residue of rage among the public. Reports of abductions and deaths of civilians are common in the wake of antiterrorism operations, though in the crowd of masked men who whisk suspects away, it is hard to say who works for the federal government and who for the police.

In any event, it has stopped mattering. In a culture that prizes revenge, uniformed police officers are a proxy for all those masked men — for the government itself — because they cannot hide.

Magomed Ataranov, 30, came to understand this after five years on the police force, when he and some other officers trotted over to help a woman who had fallen on the road. The men were laughing over some triviality, and Mr. Ataranov is still not sure what happened, but the woman glared up at them from the ground and said she hoped they would all be killed.

“We were used to it,” said Mr. Ataranov, who left the force a year later. “But from an ordinary woman I didn’t expect it.”

Lt. Col. Mark V. Tolchinsky, lead spokesman for the republic’s Interior Ministry, said attacks on the police rose last year in response to aggressive antiterrorism raids. He was not particularly hopeful about the new safety measures, but said violence had not made it any harder to recruit or retain officers.

“There is no work in Dagestan, if only for that reason,” Mr. Tolchinsky said.

“If one of them left us, how would he feed his children? Would he steal? Or would he go into the forest,” where militant groups are headquartered?

“A war has been going on here since 1997,” he said. “Maybe it sounds improper to say, but our workers only leave us dead.”

For the Mukhtarovs, 2009 was the year their city began to bristle with enemies. A 21-year-old graduate of the police academy where Colonel Mukhtarov teaches left a wedding in uniform, remarking to his companion that they should jump in a cab before someone shot him. Right then, from a passing car, someone fatally shot him.

Colonel Mukhtarov leaves his uniform at work now, though after 25 years his profession seems etched into his body — the prizefighter’s nose, salt-and-pepper buzz cut, fingers as thick as batteries. The collapse of respect for law enforcement grieves him, though he acknowledges that the police themselves are partly to blame because of their brutal tactics in fighting terrorists in the past decade.

“It won’t lead to anything good, the way they interrogate people,” he said. “They’re not supposed to tie a person to a chair and beat him to get him to start talking.” Too many young men vanish in antiterrorism operations, he added, leaving their parents to stammer that “men in masks came and put him in the car.”

But it is hard to stay objective when your friends are getting killed. Colonel Mukhtarov was watching television on a recent Friday night when a news item flashed on the screen that made him jump into his clothes and run to his car. Two hatchbacks had pulled up beside the police chief, Akhmed Magomedov, opened fire on two bodyguards in an escort car and then strafed the chief’s Volga with armor-piercing bullets, leaving him and a driver to bleed to death.

The killing took place on a crowded city street at 10:20 p.m., but the shooters vanished, untraceable. One witness reported that one of the getaway cars got stuck in a patch of ice, and several of the gunmen calmly stepped out to push it clear before driving off.

Colonel Mukhtarov, who had been close to the chief for years, stood for 40 minutes on the sidewalk where he was killed, just taking it in.

His son Gassan was busy that night, and anyway, it is harder to shock him.

“It’s a war,” Gassan said. “It won’t ever end in Dagestan.”

He added, “You do start to want to kill some of them.”

16 responses to “Putin has lost control in the Caucasus

  1. And Russia itself by politics and level of violence looks like worse sides of Kavkaz. This is the price for two wars against small Chechnia.

    Russian government can’t live in peace. Their strategy is based on stupid imperial expansion. This gone too far… USSR was a monster, Putin’s Russia is sick mutant.

  2. sascha_hero Germany

    This year the “Jamaat Shariat” will kill many more pro-russian policemen in Dagestan! They should hurry to leave this cursed police,otherwise all of them will be killed sooner or later by the freedom fighters

    • “freedom fighters”? Dzhokar Dudayev and Aslan Maschadov were freedom fighters. Current islamist militants are not. Sharia law is not freedom. It’s oppression system too, just different from Russian occupation.

  3. sascha_hero Germany

    TTC,you arrogant and ignorant western guy has no right to judge how the muslims in the Caucasus want to live! Stay out and live your own life

  4. Well, as they say: A.C.A.B.!

  5. sascha_hero Germany

    All Cops are Bastards,LOL. Not here in Germany or the USA,but in russia and the Caucasus for sure,yes. KILL THE POLICE in russia and the Caucasus,they are all murderers and bandits

  6. They are not “Police” at all..

    They are soldiers in the middle of a battle-zone.


    Cop-killers Vs. Killer-Cops sounds fair to me…

  7. The post about Dagestan:

    Categories: chechnya · russia
    Tagged: caucasus, chechnya, russia

  8. Wow, I bet larussophobe is delighted that chechen terrorist cockroaches are murdering innocent Russians to make Putin look bad. Almost makes me wonder if Israel is secretly behind this, as farfetched as that may seem. The only thing to be done about this is to EXTERMINATE chechen terrorists! KILL EM ALL, LET *ALLAH* SORT EM OUT!!!!

    • Why, of course! Your spider-sense was right:

      [President] Yevkurov, a former officer of the Russian GRU military intelligence service, also accused the United States, Britain and Israel of fomenting instability in the North Caucasus.


      Btw, in my opinion this was the rather work of “russian terrorist cockroaches”, because Putin IS bad.

      • Yevkurov is confusing North Caucuses with South Caucuses: Georgia. Evidently, he misinterpreted the Council of Europe report on the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, which outlined the provocational role that USA, Yushchenko and Israel played in encouraging the Goerigan aggression in 2008:


        There were reportedly more than a hundred US military advisers in the Georgian armed forces when the conflict erupted in August 2008, and an even larger number of US specialists and advisors are thought to have been active in different branches of the Georgian power structures and administration. Considerable military support in terms of equipment and to some extent also training was equally provided by a number of other countries led by Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Israel, the latter contributing in terms of technology and quality rather than quantity, all of them adding to the new military strength of Georgia, which was proudly displayed on suitable occasions such as National Day parades.

        … This turn of events heralded a period of Georgia’s unprecedented militarisation. The country’s Government proclaimed its aspirations to join NATO within shortest possible timelines. Georgian authorities demonstratively augmented the military budget – by 2008 the imports of weapons reached USD one billion – an astronomical amount by Georgia’s standards. The country continued to proactively procure offensive weapons in the United States and other EU and OSCE member countries. The list of countries that shipped weapons systems to Georgia included the United States, United Kingdom, France, Greece, Turkey,
        Israel, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Serbia and others.

        In Georgia it was no longer a secret that the country’s armed forces were being trained by military instructors from the United States and Israel based on methodologies developed during the military operation in the former Yugoslavia, which were not defensive in nature but rather envisaged occupation of territories in neighbouring states and resolution of conflicts through the use of military force. It should also be noted that by early 2008 the military leadership of Georgia was in the possession of detailed satellite maps depicting the territory of the proposed theatre of operations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia was unable to produce such maps using its own limited resources. In violation of previous agreements the Georgian side continued
        several years in a row to rotate its peacekeeping contingent every 2-3 months instead of twice a year. In so doing, by summer 2008 they managed to familiarise virtually all units from the 4th infantry brigade with the future theatre of operations. Later on this brigade spearheaded the attack launched against Tskhinvali on 7 August.

  9. So lemme get this straight Robert: You believe that RUSSIAN terrorists acting under orders from Putin caused the Moskva subway bombings & the police station bombing in the North Caucasus??? LMAO! I tell you one thing, Lenin’s bolsheviks were able to crush insurgency in the Caucasus and after Stalin the chechens didnt DARE revolt until the dissolution of the USSR. So clearly something can be learned from the Soviet Era and I honestly think Medvedev hasn’t been rough enough of the chechens.

    • Nazran police station was the work of the muj alright. Local, Ingush ones. Unless Buryatski (not a Caucasian btw, born Aleksandr Tikhomirov) was a Russian agent, as Zakayev accused him, and not of the “western secret services”, as Kadyrov said about him.

      I wonder if one of those subway stations was the one where you have this new-old inscription about how “Stalin thought you and inspired you to great things”. Whoever did bomb them, I guess Stalin inspired them to “great things” alright.

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