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Russian Officials Give Contradictory Assessments Of Baksan Attack

The Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus has not yet formally claimed responsibility for the attack on the Baksan hydroelectric power station.
The Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus has not yet formally claimed responsibility for the attack on the Baksan hydroelectric power station.
Russian prosecutors have categorized the militant raid early on July 21 that damaged the Baksan hydropower plant in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) as an act of sabotage, rather than an act of terrorism, thereby implicitly downplaying its seriousness and political implications.

By contrast, North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin has unequivocally branded the attack as terrorism.

The Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus has not yet formally claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a group of fighters first staged a diversion by exploding a small bomb at a nearby police station, then made their way on to the premises of the plant, killing two guards and injuring and incapacitating two more. They then planted a series of explosive devices that damaged two of the plant's three antiquated generators.

The Main Investigation Board of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office opened a criminal investigation under five separate articles of the Criminal Code, including sabotage, illegal use of explosives, and attempted murder of law enforcement officials. The decision not to file charges of terrorism may have been intended to downplay the insurgency's capacity for inflicting serious damage and casualties, and also the Russian authorities' collective failure to implement more stringent security measures in the wake of the March 29 Moscow subway bombings that killed 40 people.

In a tacit admission that negligence may have made the attack possible, the Russian Interior Ministry, has announced a probe to determine whether the KBR Interior Ministry leadership "took all possible measures to safeguard the lives of our colleagues."

In a further indication that Moscow doubts the ability of the KBR police to keep militant attacks in check, Khloponin, who was in Kabardino-Balkaria on July 21 on a previously scheduled official visit, proposed deploying Cossack detachments in Kabardino-Balkaria to maintain law and order.

Alarming Attack

Two senior Russian lawmakers have highlighted what they consider the most alarming aspects of the Baksan attack.

Gennady Gudkov, who is deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma's Security Committee, said it raises the question whether the Russian authorities are capable of effectively fighting terrorism, given that their standard response to acts of terrorism -- issuing harshly worded statements -- has not changed since 1999. He described terrorism as a disease that was not being treated, but was spreading geographically.

Aleksandr Torshin, who headed the Duma's investigation into the 2004 Beslan hostage-taking, highlighted the professionalism of the perpetrators of the Baksan raid, and expressed concern that it was "just the beginning," a "rehearsal for the seizure of larger, more important facilities."

Chasing Kanokov?

Also open to varying interpretations is the motive for the Baksan attack. Khloponin linked it to the imminent expiry of Arsen Kanokov's first term as KBR president. Kanokov himself had affirmed at a press conference on July 9 that the recent upsurge in militant attacks was intended to destabilize the situation and thus undermine his chances of a second term.

That hypothesis is dubious, however. Since the North Caucasus insurgency does not recognize the legitimacy of any Russian officials, its members almost certainly consider it irrelevant whether Kanokov is renominated for a second term or replaced by someone else.

In addition, the most logical explanation for the upsurge in militant activity since the death in late March of militant commander Anzor Astemirov is the superior military-tactical skills of his successor, Asker Jappuyev (aka Emir Abdullakh).

Two leading members of the Kabardino-Balkar-Karachai jamaat have been identified as putative masterminds of the Baksan raid. The first is Jappuyev. The second, according to local security officials quoted by "Kommersant," is Kazbek Tashuyev (nom de guerre Abdul Jabbar), 31, a resident of Baksan who heads a militant unit subordinate to Jappuyev.

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.


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