Staunton, November 6– A measure of Moscow’s failure in Daghestan is that even children of Daghestani militiamen are now joining the anti-Russian Islamist militants, an indication that further militant operations, at least of the kind Russian forces seem to be preparing for will backfire and reduce rather than increase security in that republic.
As a result, Denis Kolchin, who writes frequently about the military situation in the Caucasus, argues, Moscow needs to come up with a “creative” new strategy, one that he suggests will have to involve some form of negotiations with the forces of the Caucasus Emirate, if it is to have any chance of coming out on top (www.apn.ru/publications/article23307.htm).
And he argues that if the Russian forces simply launch more offensives in that mountainous and ethnically diverse republic, the outcome will not be the restoration of peace and stability but rather an angrier and more alienated local population and a dramatic increase in the number of Daghestanis who will join the Islamist opposition.
“Officially in the North Caucasus, there is no war,” the Moscow analyst continues, but on October 23rd, for the third time this year, Islamist militants in the North Caucasus came close to destroying an entire unit of Russian siloviki, an outcome that was avoided only by good luck. Indeed, it appears Russian forces learned nothing from the earlier attacks.
To try to cope with the growing strength of the Caucasus Emirate in Daghestan, Kolchin says, Moscow recently has expanded the number of its military and internal security troops there – the analyst gives an order of battle -- and organized, on the Chechen model, three battalions composed of representatives of local nationalities.
This expansion in the size of the pro-Moscow forces suggests that at least some among their commanders are thinking about launching a new offensive, a step that Kolchin says would be disastrous. Unlike in 1996 and 1999, when the Daghestani population supported Moscow against the Chechen rebels, however, “today the situation is different.”
Any military operation, “in whatever form it might take,” would not be capable of “increasing the level of sympathy among the current population.” Younger people are already going into the mountains to fight the Russians, including “even children of militiamen.” Indeed, in September, one of the rebels killed proved to be the son of the Derbent criminal police.
Because of this trend, one that Russian commanders on the ground are very much aware of whatever their superiors say, officials are casting about for some new strategy. One of these is “the Daghestanization of the conflict” through the formation of more local military units along the model of what has been done in Chechnya.
But this is hardly likely to be “a panacea,” Chalpin says. Not only is “a partisan war” continuing in that republic, but there are two other factors limiting the chance this shift would bring success. On the one hand, for the Islamist militants, there is no difference between Russian soldiers and Kadyrov forces – “the mujahidin will kill either” without distinction.
And on the other hand, Daghestan’s ethnic diversity dooms such a strategy to failure. While Chechnya is 93 percent ethnic Chechen, Daghestan has “no core nationality.” Instead, its largest group forms only 29 percent of the population. Hence, “the application of Daghestanization (in practice, fratricidal war) is stupid” and “threatens chaos.
“In short,” Chaplin says, “the situation in the republic will only deteriorate.” And that in turn means that “Moscow must think up something new for the Caucasus” in general and Daghestan in particular. Military actions of whatever kind are not going to be capable of “ending the partisan war” being carried out by the Islamist militants.
And such “creativity,” not much in evidence among Russian officials now, “probably” will have to involve “dialogue” with the militants, something that the current Moscow line precludes. But unless such conversations begin – and the parallel with the US battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan suggests itself – the war will only continue and may get worse.