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Kremlin Replaces Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Minister

Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov says his complaints about the harrassment of Muslims fall on deaf ears.

Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov says his complaints about the harrassment of Muslims fall on deaf ears.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Minister Lieutenant General Yury Tomchak on November 18, replacing him with Sergei Vasilyev, a career Russian police officer from Kemerovo with no previous experience of the North Caucasus.

Tomchak is apparently being held responsible for the spike in militant attacks in the republic since Balkar fighter Asker Jappuyev (aka Emir Abdullakh) succeeded Anzor Astemirov in the spring as commander of the Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai (KBK) wing of the North Caucasus insurgency.

Speaking in Pyatigorsk on November 18, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev singled out Kabardino-Balkaria and Daghestan as the two North Caucasus republics with the highest level of terrorist activity. Interior Ministry Colonel Valery Zhernov gave the number of "terrorist acts" in Kabardino-Balkaria during the first nine months of this year as 117, compared with 21during the same period in 2009.

Those statistics are at odds with data compiled by the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor-General's Office, which in the four months from May 1 to August 31 recorded just one terrorist act in Kabardino-Balkaria, 40 attacks on police officers, four attacks on Federal Security Service personnel, and two on prosecutor's office staff.

There are two interconnected reasons why the KBK insurgents target police and security personnel so relentlessly and single-mindedly, while at the same time seeking wherever possible to avoid inflicting any civilian casualties. The first is that the police and security forces are among the most visible and vulnerable representatives of a regime the insurgents consider anathema and are determined to destroy. The second is that in Kabardino-Balkaria, as in Daghestan, arbitrary police brutality against law-abiding and peaceful Muslims has been one of the primary factors that impel victims of such abuse to "head for the forest" to join the ranks of the insurgency.

Of the two men whose names became synonymous with that strategy of blanket reprisals, Daghestan's Interior Minister Lieutenant General Adilgirey Magomedtagirov was killed by a militant sniper in Makhachkala in June last year. Khachim Shogenov, Tomchak's predecessor, narrowly missed death in a terrorist bombing in early May.

Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov claimed in a recent interview that "we no longer permit arbitrary violence against devout Muslims." At the same time, he admitted that the police still resort on occasion to "dirty" methods, and they still maintain lists of practicing Muslims suspected of links with the Islamic insurgency.

In the past week alone, lawyers in Kabardino-Balkaria who represent the victims of police harassment and reprisals have gone public with the details of five such cases. Three concerned women who were practicing Muslims and wore the hijab. Two were men who worked in a butcher's store in the small town of Dugulubgey north of Nalchik; they were detained last week after police planted a grenade and ammunition on them. Both were beaten in detention.

Kanokov in his interview went on to complain that senior Interior Ministry personnel ignore his protests at such methods, sometimes even denouncing him to their superiors in Moscow behind his back.

It is not clear whether Tomchak can take credit for two recent operational decisions intended to curtail the insurgents' activities. The first is the installation of video cameras in the town of Baksan, north of Nalchik, the scene of several attacks by militants in recent months. The second is sealing all entrances to the abandoned molybdenum mine at Tyrnyauz, which is believed to serve the insurgents as a base.

In addition, Interior Ministry Lieutenant General Yury Demidov, who visited Nalchik earlier this week, told the republic's leadership that the ministry has no plans to reduce police manpower either in Kabardino-Balkaria or elsewhere in the North Caucasus Federal District.

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.