Conflict Localization Reaches Dagestan

The Russian military recently announced that it will form three new battalions in Dagestan, staffed entirely by locals. The first of these battalions, to be located near Makhachkala, is already being trained, while the other two will be formed in the near future and will be stationed in the northern and southern parts of the republic. The total force strength will be around 700-800 people.

The formation of these battalions is, in essence, an admission by the Russian military and other security services that they are failing at containing the spreading insurgency in the region. According to official sources, 104 security service personnel were killed in the region in 2010 (data through mid-November). The sizable contingent of federal forces located in Dagestan now includes the 102nd MVD brigade, the 136th Buinaksk motorized infantry brigade, the Botlikh Mountain Brigade, a naval infantry battalion, and various FSB and MVD special forces units. But despite their presence, the insurgency continues to gain strength.

Russian authorities seem to have decided to try to solve this problem by using one aspect of the Chechen model — the part where they handed over fighting the insurgency to Chechen troops. In fact, NVO reports that the new battalion in Dagestan is being trained by specialists from Chechnya. But Dagestan is not Chechnya and there is no Dagestani equivalent to Ramzan Kadyrov. Instead of a strongman willing and able to use whatever means necessary to either bring insurgents to his side or kill them, Dagestan is run by a complicated set of clans from different ethnic groups all vying with each other for power in the republic as a whole and in various individual districts.

The idea, I guess, is to combine the advantages of local knowledge possessed by locally recruited forces (usually found in the police) with the heavy armament usually possessed by federal troops. Unlike the police, these troops will not have to call in reinforcements with heavy weapons and armored vehicles when they find a group of armed insurgents. They will already have these weapons and equipment on hand.

At the same time, the absence of strong leadership at the regional level may lead to internal conflicts within the battalions, as well as the possibility that their members may defect with their weapons to the side of the insurgents. On the other hand, the presence of locally recruited military units could lead to a loss of federal control over the territory in much the same manner as Moscow has pretty much lost control of Chechnya under Kadyrov. This is especially likely should strong republic leadership emerge at some point in the future and be combined with a successful assault on the insurgency by these units.

Overall, this seems to be a risky strategy on Moscow’s part, driven perhaps by a sense that everything else they’ve tried has not worked. The chances of this tactic working also seem quite low.

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