Paralysis of power in Moscow is the main reason of Russia’s impotence in fighting of Islamic extremists

Decision of President Yeltsin to dismiss the government of Sergei Stepashin without any visible reasons, naming of the President’s successor, organization of powerful political groups of the regional leaders, and possible participation of the former Premier in them, as well as unrest in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, and Ingushetia, as well as occupation of villages on the Chechen-Dagestani border by Chechen militants show the weakening of the Kremlin’s influence on the processes going on in Russia. The federal center busy with political intrigues only partially controls the situation in many regions of the country, and the events in the North Caucasus represent a kind of barometer of Yeltsin’s ability to govern the country.

We see not only political and economic crisis, but also an actual slow decomposition of the country where there is no common power, common idea, spirit, and ideology. Security agencies are the only institutions which hinder the self-decomposition of the country. Despite the reforms and reductions they still possess the super-centralized control system. This is not accidental that Yeltsin nominates a general of the special services on the Premier’s post for the first time. The Kremlin is agonizing, and sees salvation in moving of the military leadership closer to itself. But will generals save political leadership of the country from the collapse, and will they save Russia from breakup?

Events in Dagestan demonstrate that it is impossible to hold the power at the point of the bayonet for a long time. Russia lost the war against Chechnya and reanimated the “hotbeds” of extremism in the North Caucasus. It turned out to be unable to quickly destroy the terrorists, and this might be the main measurement of the activities of Yeltsin’s nominee, Federal Security Service Director and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Putin. Judging by the methods by which the security agencies restore the status-quo of Dagestan we can try to forecast development of the situation in the whole Russia.

On August 6 former Premier Sergei Stepashin announced that federal authorities were not going to restart combat operations in the North Caucasus. “We are not going to make war against anybody,” said Stepashin answering the questions of journalists dedicated to aggravation of the situation on the Dagestani-Chechen border. Along with this, speaking about the threats of certain Chechen leaders regarding the possible invasion in Dagestan, Stepashin said: “Let them invade, and later they will learn what will befell them.” “To be frank, sometimes we exaggerate the danger relying on the words of murderers and bandits. Khattab is not a field commander, he is a bandit and killer,” announced Stepashin.

If we compare these words with what happened later, we can see that the federal center does not have the grip on the real situation, cannot not forecast the events, and acts at random. A few days later when the militants already started shooting at the airdrome in Makhachkala, security agencies leaders agreed that they did not pay the due attention to provision of security of a strategic object, such as the place where combat, and civil aircraft are based.

The phrase “We are not going to make war against anyone” is just one example of short-sightedness of General Stepashin. The followed drawn-out fighting in the mountains, inability of the Armed Forces, Interior Forces, and militia to quickly liberate the occupied villages in the Botlikhsky, and Tsumadinsky Districts proved that the federal center lags behind the events, despite that on August 8-9 representatives of all security agencies of the country were concentrated in Dagestan. On August 8 Stepashin said in Ulianovsk that Russia would not repeat its mistake of 1994-1996 in the North Caucasus, and Russian soldiers would not die there anymore. After this new military units of not only militia, and Interior Forces, but also the units of Defense Ministry were sent to the conflict area on the Chechen-Dagestani border.

Unfortunately the Russians (and not only Russians) will keep dying, because this is a law of war. Along with this the federal center makes a gross mistake arming civilians. On August 8 over 500 people enrolled to the international brigade formed for assistance to the law-enforcement agencies of Dagestan which fight the militants who occupied a few villages in the Botlikhsky District. Mayor of Dagestani capital Said Amirov reported this through the mass media. He called on those who had served in the Armed Forces, and can handle weapons to enroll to the brigade. Economic structures of the city are ready to provide trucks for transportation of the volunteers to the combat operations area. We can recall that Chechnya became de-facto independent from Russia after receiving of big quantities of armament and combat equipment, formed its own armed forces, and “defeated” the federal center in the war for its independence. Can this be repeated in Dagestan? Is a war possible there?

There is no need to prove that the population of Dagestan is split. Its part (primarily Akin Chechens and Lak people) stick to radical Islamic beliefs. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, these peoples account for about 10% of republican population. However their ranks grow. Youth is especially vulnerable to the influence of the extremists. Vahhabis already organized their Islamic body for government of the country. One of the leaders of Islamic Shura (so-called people’s parliament) of Dagestan Adollo (he is also Deputy Chairperson of the Congress of Peoples of Ichkeria and Dagestan) announced that his “people are ready for war.”

Answering the question on Interfax on August 8 if the Dagestani population understands which consequences might combat operations bring to it, and if it is ready for hostilities and losses which Chechnya suffered, Adollo announced that “peoples of Dagestan will not be stopped by anything in implementation of Shari’ah.”

Adollo says that “in the Dagestani events participate mainly local residents, for assistance to which volunteers from the whole North Caucasus and other countries started arriving recently.” “As a participant and witness of the events I can say that reports about firing, blood, and alleged flight of local residents are at odds with reality,” stressed Adollo.

Adollo is convinced that “the flame of war, if it is kindled by Russia, will instantaneously spread over Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and other regions of the Caucasus.” We can agree with these conclusions of the Islamist, but we can hardly believe that majority of local residents supports the Vahhabis. According to official information, over 2,000 residents have already left the mountain villages in the Botlikhsky District of Dagestan taken by the militants. The refugees, mostly women and children, arrived in Makhachkala. According to the refugees, the men remained in the occupied villages as hostages. The refugees say that the militants are going to found the Islamic republic in the territory of the district, and the war was caused by the wish of the militants to present Botlikh village as a birthday gift to field commander Khattab from Jordan on August 7.

According to the refugees, the militants are commanded by Khattab and Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. The witnesses point out that there are not so many Dagestani people among the militants, majority of them being Chechens and foreign terrorists. The refugees say that the village administration drafted all men who had served in the Armed Forces to be able to receive weapons and fight the Islamic extremists.

Public relations service of the State Council of Dagestan reported to Interfax that in accordance with the resolution of the republican government commission was organized for evacuation of residents of four villages of the Botlikhsky District (Ansalat, Rakhat, Miarso, and Akhino). The commission is headed by Vice Chairperson of the Council of Ministers of Dagestan Nabiyuly Magomedov. The refugees from the mountain villages are settled at the resorts on the Caspian coast, and other districts of the republic. Transportation of military units of the Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry to the Botlikhsky district is currently being continued to destroy the invaders.

Thus the flame of war in the North Caucasus is inevitable. Of course, this will have destabilizing influence on the general situation in Russia. Will the Kremlin make new mistakes” Will Dagestan be able to get rid of the bandits and extremists. How will the events develop further? We cannot answer these questions now. However it is already evident that stability will come to the North Caucasus only when there is strong power in Moscow, when the crisis is over, and the country starts rising. Unfortunately, this will happen in Russia not very soon.