Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Window on Eurasia: New Problems Arise with Formation of National Units in Daghestan

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 16 – Plans to form MVD units consisting of members of local nationalities in Daghestan appear to have slowed because of a lack of funding for infrastructure such as housing, an indication that this program may neither have the priority that its backers had suggested or achieve its goals as soon or as completely as they had hoped.
General Nikolay Rogozhkin, Russia’s deputy minister of internal affairs, announced yesterday the completion of what he described as the first stage of the formation of a specialized motorized MVD battalion whose soldiers are drawn from the non-Russian nationalities of Daghestan (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/177011/).
Rogozhkin said that the MVD had “completed the formation of this separate 300-man battalion, that it is “included in the military staff of the Daghestani Ministry of Internal Affairs to guarantee security in Makhachkala and other regions of the republic,” and that it has already begun to fulfill its “military tasks.”
According to the general, most of those in the battalion are natives of Daghestan “who have passed through military service in the Russian army and other forces,” and “we consider that namely the Daghetanis will give a worth response to the bandit underground which is trying to terrorize the local population.”
At the end of September, the Russian interior ministry said it was taking this step at the request of Daghestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov, who argued that local people because of their knowledge of languages, cultures, and geography would be better able to counter the rising tide of militant violence in his republic.
In the six weeks since that time, however, many have expressed concerns that such units could become nothing more than units likely to fall under the control of this or that leader of a particular ethnic region, of which Daghestan has a large number. If that occurred, these commentators have warned, the situation in Daghestan could grow much worse.
And others, especially in Moscow and in the Russian forcer structures have warned that the formation of ethnic units in more republics – they have already been formed in Chechnya – could lead to the disintegration of the Russian military and point to the collapse of the country as a unified whole.
However that may be, the process of forming such units even in Daghestan appears to have slowed. The original plan for two battalions of 700 Daghestanis each has now been reduced at least for the time being to a single one with only 300 soldiers, ostensibly because there is insufficient housing for any larger grouping.
Meanwhile, also in Daghestan, another ethnically based force is taking shape and also with the support of Makhachkala, and this one is based on the Cossacks, a group that in that North Caucasus republic has attracted some Daghestanis, particularly the Nogays, but has always been viewed as a Russian force (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/177031/).
Zirkula Ilyasov, Daghestan’s first deputy minister for nationality policy, religious affairs and foreign relations, insists that the Cossacks in Daghestan “always were, above everything else, a cementing tie between all nationalities,” an assertion that some would dispute and that other would read in their own way.
He announced this week that the republic government now has registered “about 1300 Cossacks” who are organized in 23 Cossack societies and that Makhachkala is offering them subsidies and land as part of a five-year program to revive the Cossack community there. Moreover, republic ataman Nikolay Spirin now serves as a government advisor.
Historically relations between the Cossacks and most Daghetanis have been good, Enver Kisriyev, a Caucasus specialist at the Russian Academy of Sciences says, but since the collapse of the USSR, the Cossacks there have pushed for the separation of the northern regions of Daghestan and their inclusion in a revived Cossack host territory, something Daghestanis oppose.
A significant portion of those territories had been populated by ethnic Russians in the past, but most of the Russians have left and the Cossacks would like to move in. That has touched a nerve, Kisriyev says, but he argues that he does not expect any conflicts, especially if the activities of the Cossacks are closely coordinated by the government.
But Kisriyev’s expectations may be too optimistic given that ethnic battalions in the MVD are formed at exactly the same time. There is a risk that such units could come into conflict with each other either by accident or by the design of ethnic leaders, and even the prospect of such a possibility must be worrisome in Makhachkala and Moscow.

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