Staunton, September 7 – As Daghestan descends into violence, experts there have criticized one of Moscow’s proposals for addressing the situation – the creation of a Chechen-style battalion made up of people from the local nationalities who, the Russian authorities assume, will be more ready and able to go into the mountains and fight the militants.
In the current issue of “Nastoyashcheye vremya,” Khatima Nisredova reports on a roundtable held in Makhachkala last week to discuss three questions that the creation of such a unit raises: would it be effective, what would be the forms and work of such units, and what would be their rules of engagement (gazeta-nv.ru/content/view/4695/109/).
The organizers, she says, invited “journalists, politicians, public figures, lawyers, and representatives of the powers that be and law enforcement structures.” But unfortunately, the latter, who are “the most informed on this theme, did not appear at the meeting,” thus limiting its importance.
While those who did participate expressed a variety of views, the weekly’s journalist said, most were opposed to the creation of such battalions, “supposing that in the system and methods of their actions there will be nothing new,” that these units may provoke more violence, or that they may be used against law-abiding opposition figures.
Khanzhan Kurbanov, the chief editor of “Nastoyashcheye vremya,” said that such units could become “the nucleus of a future police force which would work according to democratic standards and respect human rights.” But he said official proposals to create such units raise more questions than they answer.
Why, for example, are the battalions to have 800 people rather than the normal 1,000? he asked, and why are even that many people being recruited to fight the militants in the mountains when officials have said that there are only “about 80” militants in Daghestan. Does that mean that it takes ten policemen to defeat one militant?
Magomed Shamilov, the head of the Daghestani independent trade union of investigators and the procuracy, said that the creation of such units would be extremely dangerous. “One must not allow these 800 people to go into the forest and kill because after that will begin a wave of revenge by the “forest” forces and the situation will only get more complicated.”
Barudin Uzunayev, a journalist and commentator, suggested that the idea of creating such units simply reflects popular anger: “Ramzan Kadyrov openly calls [the militants] devils. Who among us can call them that? No one! Because they are afraid. I do not know how the 800 people of the battalion will act, but it seems to me that this process is dangerous.”
Rasul Kadiyev, a lawyer, said that 800 people wouldn’t be enough to do the job. Worse, the use of force should be the last tactic, not the first. What Daghestan needs to do is create “an intellectual spetsnaz, which will act through information technologies,” such as television, to reach out to the militants.
We are not using this weapon, he continued, and we are failing to face up to the reality that those oppose us do not take our order into consideration. “Why?” The answer is obvious. Because “we do not have any order.” It would be better to send people to talk to the militants than to dispatch those who will simply shoot at them.
Magomedbek Saltinsky, another journalist, suggested that others were missing the point. This battalion was not being created for ideological purposes but for the interests of one group or another that has its own power agenda. “After all these conversations, we can lose Daghestan as such,” he suggested.
Abulmuslim Murtazaliyev, the chairman of Daghestan’s Social Chamber, said he was opposed to any who want to change the constitutional order and build their own state but that he has “big concerns” that these battalions will be joined by Russian military units. “We must save Daghestan from a greater misfortune and do this if possible by restoring order in our society.”
That should involve methods other than the use of force at least to begin with, Murtazaliyev argued, given that “among the ‘forest’ militants are those who have landed in the ranks of the illegal armed formations by chance and would like to return to normal life” if given the chance,” something units subordinate to Moscow might not allow them to do.
Zaur Gaziyev, chief editor of the “Respublika” newspaper, denounced the idea of creating these “death squadrons” because he said they were less likely to be used against militants or to restore public order than to “kill those who think differently because the existing system is not capable of dealing with the situation.”
“Society was agitated by the murder of the lawyers Sapiyat Masgomedova and Dzhamila Tagirova … but the powers that be did not react. A youth is killed in a militia unit in the Shamil district, and the powers that be are silent. The Social Chamber in general acts as if nothing is taking place. [Creating] Death Squadrons [is] their emotional solution.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Adallo Aliyev said that young people were not going into the mountains because of economic difficulties but because of moral offense. “A real mountaineer can live a week on a husk of bread and remain a man. But when his dignity is threatened, it is impossible to put up with that.”
“Here is the main cause why young men are fleeing into the mountains. And we all know that.” Creating new military units to go after them by itself will do little or nothing to address that problem, and that is something Aliyev implied everyone in the North Caucasus knows equally well.