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Kabardino-Balkaria Authorities At A Loss How To Cope With Militant Threat

Police in Kabardino-Balkaria have been leaving the force in droves as they have been increasing targeted by insurgents.

Police in Kabardino-Balkaria have been leaving the force in droves as they have been increasing targeted by insurgents.

On February 5, two days after the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) parliament issued frantic appeals to Moscow for help to combat the increasingly assertive Islamic insurgency, a hitherto unknown group calling itself the Black Hawks tossed four Molotov cocktails into the yard of the family home in a Nalchik suburb of suspected militant Astemir Mamishev.

Asker Jappuyev (Emir Abdullakh), commander of the Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai wing of the North Caucasus insurgency, responded immediately by ordering a general mobilization in order to protect militants' families and "ordinary Muslims" from indiscriminate reprisals.

Since Jappuyev was named its commander in April 2010, the Kabardino-Balkar-Karachai jamaat has systematically gunned down dozens of police and security officials. In the past two months alone, insurgents have killed the republic's mufti, Anas Pshikhachev; respected ethnographer Aslan Tsipinov; and Chegem district head Mikhail Mambetov.

In late January, the insurgents adopted the tactic of setting up booby-trapped road signs indicating which sector of the "Caucasus Emirate" motorists were entering. One local police chief was seriously injured on January 31 when an improvised explosive device blew up as he was inspecting one of those road signs.

On February 1, KBR President Arsen Kanokov convened a press conference in Nalchik at which he admitted that the republic's police were unable to contain the insurgents and outlined proposals for doing so more effectively. He stressed, however, that "of course we shall not burn down the homes [of fighters' families] like they do in Chechnya." The Black Hawks ignored that injunction when they targeted the Mamishev family home, thereby calling into question Kanokov's authority.

Then on February 3, the day after insurgents killed five police lunching at a Chegem cafe, the KBR parliament met in emergency session and adopted two appeals, one to the Russian leadership to "take additional measures to stabilize the situation," and the second to the population at large to close ranks to combat the "terrorist threat."

Neither appeal is likely to have any effect. Fearing for their lives, officers are leaving the KBR police force in droves, according to Sergei Vasilyev, who was named KBR interior minister three months ago. Jappuyev issued a statement in October promising not to target police officers who resigned and made the fact public, and his February 6 general mobilization decree contains a prohibition on harming rank and file policemen "who do not participate in attacks on Muslims' families."

North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin has argued against imposing a counterterror regime in the KBR on the grounds that the situation is not serious enough. Cynics might construe Khloponin's rejection of stringent counterterror measures as motivated primarily by the desire to save face: imposing such measures would be a tacit admission not only that police and security forces are powerless to contain the militant threat, but of his own personal failure.

On the other hand, as Khloponin himself has pointed out, injustice at the hands of the police is one of the factors that impel a steady stream of new volunteers to join the insurgency. One of the 74 (to date) comments on Jappuyev's general mobilization decree describes such an incident:

"Today as I was driving out of Islamey [a small town on a major highway northwest of Nalchik], I was flagged down by cops and men in masks. When I failed to stop they fired into the air, even though there were elderly people around and my family was in the car with me. I got out, and one of the masked men came up to me and asked rudely for my documents. I told him to take off his mask and identify himself, but he refused. At that moment the only thing I wanted was a submachine gun to gun the brutes down on the spot. It's time we closed ranks and made these stinking Russian hirelings afraid to encroach on our lands."

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.