By Paul Goble
As violence in Daghestan mounts and the death toll in that North Caucasus republic mounts, Moscow’s decision to create new military units in that North Caucasus republic made up primarily of members of local nationalities, a system that resembles the one Ramzan Kadyrov has in Chechnya, is proving to be increasingly controversial.
Two days ago, Vasily Panchenkov, press spokesman for the internal troops of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, announced that a special battalion was being formed in Daghestan whose personnel, both draftees and professionals, are drawn primarily from the nationalities of that republic (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/174871/).
The spokesman added that “the decision on the creation of [this] military unit” which has been discussed in the Moscow and Makhachkala media over the last month, “was taken by Russian Federation President [Dmitry] Medvedev who was reacting to a request by Daghestan President Magomedsalam Magomedov.”
But despite such backing from the highest levels, the creation of this new 750-man unit has not been universally popular. Islamagomed Nabiyev, the head of the independent drivers and entrepreneurs union of Daghestan, said that the new unit could easily be misused and duplicates existing institutions.
“On the one hand,” he told Kavkaz-uzel.ru, most senior officials in various parts of Daghestan already have “their own guard force which not infrequently solves the problems of the boss.” This new unit, he suggests, simply extends that pattern upward, giving the republic president his own political hit squad with all the problems that entails.
And on the other, Nabiyev continued, there is a very real question as to why it is necessary to create “such special units when there is the militia, the FSB and the Army. The example of Chechnya already shows that such structures become cruel and pitiless attack squads,” and one provision of the Daghestani unit makes that even more likely.
According to his information, the trade union leader said, the interior ministry plans to recruit “relatives of those who have suffered from the actions of the militants.” Given the mentality of the people there, he continued, “such people in their work will be led not by the laws of Russia but by the laws of the mountains regarding blood feuds.”
Denga Khalidov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems of Russia and the head of the Center for Strategic and Ethno-Political Research, agrees. “I do not know who took this decision,” he said. But in his view, there are already enough units and, if not, new ones should be created only within existing structures, not according to new rules.
But the plan has its supporters, especially among those close to the top leaders in Makhachkala. Zubayru Zubayruev, a press spokesman for the Daghestani president, says he does not see any “violation of the law in the formation of the special division.” The state, he continued, “must defend itself from those who want to overthrow the existing order by force.”
To do that it needs people who know the lay of the land. At present, Russian “people in the force structures do not know the local areas, do not have contacts with the population and so on,” whereas those from the local population who will be in this special unit know the area and are part of the people they are protecting.
And in this, the presidential press spokesman continued, there is nothing wrong “with having relatives of those who have suffered from the arbitrariness of the militants,” given that “nowhere is it written that one must ignore such people” in forming units to fight those in the forests.
But Vyacheslav Gasanov, a spokesman for the Daghestani Ministry of Internal Affairs, while supporting the idea, had a slightly different view. He said that members of the unit will be recruited “on a voluntary basis as professionals.” And therefore, it will be essential to exclude any possibility of such people acting on the basis of blood feud principles.
According to Kavkaz-Uzel.ru, the unit once it is fully formed will be a motorized battalion and will be dressed in the uniforms of the interior ministry. Its 700 to 750 members will be based near the Daghestani capital of Makhachkala but will be deployed as needed throughout the republic.