Year results in Northern Caucasus: mass protests and arrests of officials
    Law enforcer watching gathering of people in Grozny square. Photo: REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko

    In the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD), the past year is remembered by several crises, including expansion of the territory of Chechnya by Ramzan Kadyrov despite mass protests in Ingushetia, interethnic conflict which led to the resignation of the Kabardino-Balkarian leader, and a number of top-ranking officials fell under arrest and investigations in Dagestan.

    Chechnya: trend to conflict intensification

    In 2018, at least 11 armed incidents occurred in Chechnya, while in 2017, there were eight armed incidents, and in 2016 six. The outgoing year confirmed a formed trend for a growth of the number of armed incidents. Besides, another important tendency was a trend toward radicalization of confrontation.

    On August 20, a series of attacks on law enforcers took place in the Shali District of Chechnya and in Grozny. The eldest of militants was 18 years old, while the rest of the attackers were teenagers of 11-17 years old. Later, several videos were posted on the Internet in which the Chechen teenagers swore allegiance to the "Islamic State"* (IS, a terrorist organization, banned in Russia by the court, – note of the "Caucasian Knot"). After the attack, law enforcers detained adult men from the attackers' families and questioned people from the circle of the killed suspects. Members of the militants' families left Shali under pressure from the law enforcement bodies. In the Shali District of Chechnya, law enforcers organized mass interrogations of teenagers.

    Another evidence of extreme forms for the conflict in Chechnya was suicide bombing of Karina Spiridonova, committed at a checkpoint in Grozny on November 17. The Chechen authorities announced that the woman was recruited by IS* members, while the Karina Spiridonova's mother believed that her daughter had to commit a terror act, since militants threatened to harm her children.

    Ingushetia: Yunus-Bek Evkurov succeeds to be re-elected before protests

    In Ingushetia, the key events of the past year were mass protests after an agreement on securing the border with Chechnya was signed on September 26.

    A significant part of the Ingush society, some MPs, the majority of religious leaders and the opposition believed that the land exchange had been infringed upon the interests of Ingushetia and demanded to hold a referendum. On October 30, the Constitutional Court of Ingushetia recognized the law on the border with Chechnya as unconstitutional. Yunus-Bek Evkurov questioned the decision of the Ingush Constitutional Court and appealed to the Russian Constitutional Court, which on December 6 approved the agreement on the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya.

    The Yunus-Bek Evkurov's political success was in the fact that he was re-elected as the leader of the region on September 9, shortly before the protests against the new border. Analysts treated the situation in Ingushetia before the election as stable: at that time, tension on the border with Chechnya and criticism from local oppositionists did not exacerbate the situation. The conflict between the leader of Ingushetia and the Ingush Muftiate, as a result of which Yunus-Bek Evkurov had been removed from the Muslim community, did not affect the election results.

    At night on January 17, in Nazran, unidentified persons set fire to an office of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial". PCs and furniture were destroyed by the fire, and no people were hurt. According to records from a surveillance camera, the office was set on fire by two unidentified men. The rights defenders treated the attack on the office as a terror act.

    Kabardino-Balkaria becomes a scene of interethnic conflict

    On September 18, residents of the Balkarian village of Kendelen did not let participants of the equestrian march of Kabardians organized in honour of the 310th anniversary of the Konjaly Battle to pass through their village. Later, about 200 participants of the Kabardian foot procession entered in the village and came into conflict with the Balkarians. Fighters of the National Guard of Russia arrived in the Kendelen village and tightly blocked the participants of the action, including by shots in the air. On the other day, clashes between Kabardian activists and law enforcers occurred in the village of Zayukovo and at a road-and-patrol service (known as DPS) checkpoint in Baksan. According to activists, as a result of a clash with the police, 45 people were taken to hospital and the number of detainees reached 120 (all of them were released after serving their administrative arrests).

    The conflict was formally caused by a long-time disagreement between Kabardians and Balkarians in assessing the historical significance of the Konjaly Battle. However, historians and political analysts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot" pointed to political reasons for the confrontation.

    The fact that the authorities of the republic are responsible for the interethnic conflict is confirmed by the decision of Vladimir Putin, who on September 26 dismissed Yuri Kokov from his post of the leader of the region. Kazbek Kokov, an adviser to the regional bloc of the Russian presidential administration on domestic policy, who supervised the North-Caucasian Federal District, was appointed the acting leader of the region.

    Dagestan: Vladimir Vasiliev gets rid of a prefix "acting leader" amid arrests of officials

    In 2018, in Dagestan, the main theme was large-scale "clean up" among officials. Dagestani leader Vladimir Vasiliev invited to the republic a special group of the General Prosecutor's Office and investigators from Moscow. The first result of the prosecutors' group was the detention of Makhachkala Mayor Musa Musaev: by late 2018, his case ended with sentence to four years of imprisonment and deprivation of power. Later, other top-ranking officials were detained and arrested. According to the calculations run by the "Caucasian Knot", at least 18 heads of ministries and departments were arrested during the year.

    On September 9, against the above background, the Dagestani parliament elected the head of the region. MPs expectedly supported the candidacy of Vladimir Vasiliev, the acting leader of the region.

    Stavropol Territory: armed incidents and pressure on activists

    In 2018, in the Stavropol Territory, there were four armed incidents, and attacks and shootouts in Nevinnomyssk and Stavropol provoked a public resonance.

    On April 21, the FSB reported that a militant of the "Islamic State" (IS), banned in Russia by the court, who was plotting terror acts, rendered resistance and was killed in the Stavropol Territory.

    On May 1, in Neftekumsk, a man who injured two law enforcers, including one with a knife, was killed. Later, the responsibility for the attack was claimed by the "Islamic State" (IS), a terrorist organization, banned in Russia by the court. However, the Investigating Committee of the Russian Federation (ICRF) reported that the information about the involvement of the IS* in the terror act had been false.

    On May 4, in Nevinnomyssk, two persons were killed in a shootout with law enforcers. The killed suspects were declared to be leaders of an extremist grouping which was plotting terror acts. The killed suspects were local residents, and the law enforcement bodies sought to create the appearance of combating terrorism, without trying to leave the suspects alive, stated journalists interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot".

    Rights defenders reported on a search conducted on December 6 in an apartment of activist Daria Atdaeva, who demanded to investigate a special operation in Nevinnomyssk. Law enforcers also conducted searches in houses of Muslim activists.

    Karachay-Cherkessia: law enforcement bodies report on fight against terrorism

    In 2018, the law enforcement bodies twice reported on special operations and detentions of suspected members from units of the "Ut-Takfir wal-Hijra", an extremist organization banned in Russia by the court. On May 24, 11 people were detained, and on October 4, the law enforcement bodies reported on the detention of other eight suspects. According to the secret service, all suspects were plotting to create a state with a Sharia form of government in Northern Caucasus. In February, against five out of six defendants in a case on an IS* unit, the court pronounced sentences more severe than requested by public prosecutor, although the guilt of the defendants was not duly proved, their advocates stated.

    North Ossetia: scandalous criminal cases and victory of activists in fight against "Electrozink" Factory

    On June 20, Aslan Gagiev, who was on the international wanted list, was extradited from Austria and taken into custody in North Ossetia. According to the law enforcement bodies, since 2004, Aslan Gagiev led a grouping of fifty people involved in more than 60 murders. After his detention, Aslan Gagiev reported about his relations with law enforcers and million-rouble payments to federal officials, the newspaper "Novaya Gazeta" reported on September 3. According to him, the prosecution against him was launched when the money that he was handing over to law enforcers stopped reaching the "main addressee."

    The many-year protests of Vladikavkaz residents who demanded to close or move to another place the manufacturing workshops of the "Electrozink" Factory acquired a special resonance after a fire broke out in one of the workshops on October 21. An employee of the Ministry for Emergencies (MfE) was killed by the fire, and two of his colleagues were injured.

    The operation of the "Electrozink" Factory was suspended, and more than 1500 of its workers became idle. MPs of North Ossetia unanimously supported the demand to completely stop the operation of the plant. On December 14, Vyacheslav Bitarov, the leader of the republic, announced the completion of the operation of the "Electrozink" Factory.

    * Islamic State (IS, former ISIL) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia by the court

    This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on December 31, 2018 at 09:30 pm MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.