Briefing :: Dagestan: A New Flashpoint in Russia's North Caucasus

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BRIEFING

COMMISSION ON 
SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE: 
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION

DAGESTAN: 
A NEW FLASHPOINT IN RUSSIA’S NORTH CAUCASUS

SPEAKERS:
SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA,
CHAIR, CIVIC ASSISTANCE COMMITTEE FOR REFUGEES

ALEXEI MALASHENKO,
SCHOLAR-IN-RESIDENCE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT, MOSCOW

ELENA MILASHINA,
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, NOVAYA GAZETA

TUESDAY, JUNE 16, 2009

THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 10:11 A.M. TO 12:05 P.M. IN ROOM 1539 LONGWORTH HOUSE 
OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [KYLE PARKER, POLICY ADVISOR FOR EURASIA, 
CSCE], MODERATING



KYLE PARKER:  Good morning.  Does this work and everybody can hear?  I’d like 
to welcome everybody to this morning’s Helsinki Commission briefing on the 
situation in Dagestan.  We’d like to get started here because how we sort of 
envision a briefing is really an opportunity for an informal discussion with 
members of the audience and questions.  At the commission, we receive a lot of 
groups – a lot of delegations, NGOs – from Russia and regions we cover and this 
is sort of our way of opening it up to the public and having that reception and 
that discussion publicly.  The remarks are transcribed and do become part of 
our official record.  

So Dagestan, the most populated and largest of the North Caucasus republics in 
Southern Russia, has been in the news quite a lot lately – not a whole lot of 
the news is good.  I was sort of reading Tatyana Lokshina’s piece from a couple 
of days ago and she says here:  “There’s never a quiet moment in Dagestan.  
There are all the counterterrorism operations where entire houses are destroyed 
and helicopters fire away into mountain gorges.  There are explosions in the 
streets, and finding bombs that have not gone off yet has become a routine 
event.  

“Dagestan provides a lot of news, none of it any good.  And, yet, few people 
really understand what is happening there.  It is hard to get an objective 
picture of events in such a complex place, home to more than 30 ethnic groups 
speaking numerous languages.  In fact, it is all but impossible, even more so 
when the media propagate myths that are often beyond absurd.”

I certainly hope today’s discussion helps us to better understand this very 
complex region.  And we have three distinguished experts who have just arrived, 
I believe, from Russia a couple of days ago.  We’re very happy to have them 
here and would like to especially thank Freedom House and Ele Asoyan for 
helping us to put this together.  We often have to rely on who’s here in 
Washington to brief us and sometimes you get tired of the same old experts and 
the same old pundits we have.  So it’s nice to have some serious expertise from 
the region.

We may be joined today by our chairman, Alcee Hastings.  And I think we’ll try 
to keep – we do have to go through an interpreter, so let’s try to keep remarks 
to about 10 minutes per panelist, and I think we’ll finish all three 
presentations and then move to question and answer.  Hopefully, we can have a 
lively discussion following the presentations.  And I would like to start with 
Svetlana Gannushkina.

SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA:  It’s okay?

MR. PARKER:  Yeah.  And I assume everybody has had a chance to pick up the 
witness biographies.  I won’t spend any time on them.  But you can read about 
our distinguished panelists in the handouts.  And there are some out there if 
anyone didn’t get any.

(Note:  Ms. Gannushkina’s remarks are delivered via translator.)

MS. GANNUSHKINA:  Good morning.  When we talk about Northern Caucasus, we mean 
primarily a number of ethnic provinces.  And they are Chechnya, Ingush 
Republic, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and 
Dagestan.  Cumulatively, the population of the entire region is not more than 6 
million people, but the most populous of these provinces is Dagestan, with a 
population of about 2.5 million people.

Dagestan is the most complex, multiethnic province.  But all of these provinces 
have a lot of commonalities that more or less characterize the overall 
situation in the region.  There is a high level of unemployment, and the 
highest level of unemployment is in Dagestan – up to 80 percent – also, 
poverty, which is more typical for Dagestan rather than to other republics.  
Unbelievable level of corruption exceeding the average corruption level 
throughout Russia by a few times.  I can quote President Medvedev, who said 
that corruption affected the entire government – the bureaucracy of Russia – 
from the top down to the bottom.

There is also arbitrariness on behalf of the government officials, both at the 
federal level and provincial and local level, and the absence of rule of law – 
and I’m talking primarily about federal law – because the only trait and 
characteristic that is valued there is obedience and allegiance to the Kremlin. 
 This allegiance is attained through strong-arm methods because, unfortunately, 
there are no other ways of persuasion available to our law enforcement.

In their actions, law enforcement is akin to a criminal gang.  They kidnap 
people; sometimes people vanish without a trace.  Sometimes, they would take 
justice in their own hands and would put to death somebody without a verdict.  
There is a widely reported use of torture in interrogation and during the 
investigative process.  There are also charges that sometimes were invented or 
trumped up.

And even though sometimes these abuses are revealed through the judicial 
procedure, the sentences and verdicts are often unjustified and harsh.  And I 
will elaborate a little bit more on the techniques that are used.  It is quite 
understandable why this type of behavior causes some resistance.  Sometimes, 
this resistance becomes an armed resistance; people are not able to express 
their opposing views and political opposition and cannot use legitimate means 
of expressing this opinion or dissent.  

In all of the provinces, but particularly in Chechnya, in Ingush Republic and 
Dagestan, we have armed, underground resistance.  So far, it’s a big question 
for me how well it is organized.  But what’s obvious for me is that initially, 
there were small groups that were acting independently from each other, but 
steadily, they are getting more and more organized in a uniform structure, 
finding the same underlying ideology.  The government tries to persuade us that 
members of this underground movement are those fighters and insurgents who came 
to these areas after the defeat of – the war in Chechnya. 

But this is not true, based on the fact that those who get captured or killed 
in the firefights appear to be local villagers and not visitors from outside of 
those provinces.  It’s understandable that this type of underground movement 
would need some sort of underlying ideology, and now, Islam increasingly 
becomes that underlying ideology.  And it’s not clear what comes first is that 
the overall campaign by Russian government against Islam was caused by these 
Islamic resistance or underground movement, or the outright assault on Islam by 
the government caused this type of Islamic resistance.  It’s not quite clear 
for me.  But I know one thing: that these are interrelated processes.  

What is evident is that not just in the North Caucasus, but throughout Russia, 
there are a number of trials going on and a number of trials that already were 
concluded where people standing trials are accused of not just following or 
adhering to Islam, but following or professing the wrong kind of Islam.  This 
contributes to the further spread of Islam, its radicalization and 
transformation of Islam as a form of a protest.  At the same time, the ruling 
cliques at the helm of each of these ethnic provinces would try to claim Islam 
as their own.  So they would profess the correct, or the right kind of Islam 
and all the other kinds would be considered wrong.  

This causes an internal strife – a conflict between various denominations 
within Islam.  It is accepted, or it is common, to refer to that form of wrong 
Islam as “Wahhabi Islam,” regardless of the religious philosophy of each of 
these Islamic movements.  And because of this fear that has its hold on Moscow 
and because of the views of Wahhabi Islam by the majority of Russian populace 
and the work of mass media, there is pretty much an equals sign between Wahhabi 
Islam and terrorism and fundamental radicalism.  This is, overall, 
characteristics that are common for all of the North Caucasus provinces.

At the same time, there are certain distinct characteristics in each of them.  
There’s a totalitarian rule in Chechnya where the government pretty much has a 
monopoly on lawless acts.  And so-called “Chechen stability” entirely rests on 
this premise.  Ingush Republic is another, entirely different ethnic province 
where, starting in 2002 after President Zyazikov became the head of the 
province, this formerly tranquil and stable ethnic province turned to be a 
hotbed for various fighting factions.  And in Kabardino-Balkariya, where all 
the resistance and opposition movement was suppressed, right now there’s a 
trial going on there.  There are basically 59 people who were scapegoated – 
they were yanked out of the crowd that was storming the presidential palace in 
Kabardino-Balkariya.  

But the largest and the most complex province is the Republic of Dagestan.  And 
their ministry of internal affairs – their entire law enforcement establishment 
– behaves and acts, and in effect, it transformed itself into a criminal gang.  
They commit murders on a daily basis.  On June 5th, the minister of the 
internal affairs himself was assassinated.  And we also need to give some 
historical background.  There is an inter-ethnic conflict.  And the seeds of 
this conflict were planted during the great movement of people that was 
inspired by Stalin.  

Chechens, who were one of the largest minorities in Dagestan were, during 
Stalin’s time, deported from the valley, and Avars – another ethnic group – was 
resettled on that territory.  They were brought in from up high in the 
mountains.  And now Chechens are repatriating to that area and they demand that 
this land would be cleared of the Avars.  But the Avars have no place to go, 
because back in the mountains there is no infrastructure and a modern person 
cannot survive up there anymore.  The civil society there is very weak.  

There is only one nongovernmental organization there that is dealing with the 
issue of human rights.  They are fighting the trend of kidnapping people in 
Dagestan and it’s called the Mothers of Dagestan Against Kidnapping.  I’m sorry 
– and the name of the organization is the Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights. 
 The organization was formed in 2007.  It was the peak of a wave of kidnappings 
in Dagestan at the time; pretty much all these mothers lost their children in 
these kidnappings.  And this organization is persecuted by the government 
officials.  And it is still in business only because a lot of other 
nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups are supporting and helping it 
out. 

The only way to defeat trumped-up charges and fabricated charges in criminal 
cases is through the jury trials.  I would say that almost 100 percent of 
people who were kidnapped by law enforcement agencies and then interrogated and 
tortured were acquitted later by jury.  And now, they abolished the jury trials 
for the defendants that are charged with these specific crimes and violations.  
So we lost all hope for fair and impartial trials.  Thank you for your 
attention.  

MR. PARKER:  Thank you, Svetlana.  Before moving on to Professor Malashenko, 
I’d just like to take a moment and recognize Congressman Joseph Pitts of 
Pennsylvania, who has joined us.

REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPH PITTS (D-PA):  Thank you, I don’t have any statement.  I 
came to listen and learn.  I want to thank the witnesses for their briefing 
today.  Thank you.

MR. PARKER:  Thank you, Congressman.  Professor Malashenko?

ALEXEI MALASHENKO:  Okay, well, I’ll try to say a couple of words in English.  
I hope you will understand me.  I don’t want to repeat what my colleague, 
Gannushkina, has already told, so a little bit – some remarks about the general 
situation in the Northern Caucasus and, in general, in the Caucasus.

I don’t want to go into details, because my second colleague, Milashina Elena, 
will tell you more mainly about Dagestan.  So as I told, I’ll try to make some 
generalizations.  First, what is the Northern Caucasus?  To my opinion, it is a 
certain, semi – almost totally, a traditional society.  We have to pay 
attention to this point.  A modernization under the Soviet regime was 
successful.  So, yes, we have to recognize it.  But, anyway, it didn’t reach – 
it didn’t accomplish all of the targets.  So it wasn’t finished, it wasn’t 
finished.

In the Soviet regime, some communists – they weren’t able to remake, totally, 
Caucasian society.  Maybe that’s because of lack of time; maybe it’s because of 
Soviet system.  But anyway, the society in the Northern Caucasus is 
semi-traditional.  Next, point number two.  Now, the main process in the area – 
in particular in Dagestan, in Chechnya, in Ingushetia – the Eastern republics 
of the area – is so-called de-modernization or archaization.  Well, it’s up to 
you for what kind of notion to choose.  But no modern sector of economy 
anywhere.  

For instance, you ask a specialist in economy, what about economic situation in 
Ingushetia or in Chechnya?  The answer will be no economy.  The lack of 
education system – of course, you may find in Ingushetia, in Dagestan, 
everywhere, in Chechnya, a lot of schools and institutions and some institutes 
– mostly Islamic.  But the level of education – the level of modern education – 
is extremely low, extremely low.  It needs, of course, a special explanation, 
but believe me, it is so. 

Next problem – also mentioned – Islamization.  Well, I could call it the second 
wave of Islamization.  What does that mean?  The first wave took place in ’90s, 
just at the end of perestroika and the 10 years after the collapse of the 
Soviet Union.  That was quite normal.  Why?  Because it was in reaction against 
Soviet ideology – against Soviet official atheism.  So all kinds of Islamic 
trends, movements, ideas emerged in the Northern Caucasus, including Sufi Islam 
– by the way, prohibited by communists – Wahhabi Islam, fundamentalist Islam – 
well, it makes no difference.  Anyway, that was an Islamic rebirth or 
renaissance.  

What we have now about mentioned second wave – it means that Islam is becoming 
more and more a political factor, social factor and a factor of regulation of 
relations inside societies – inside Chechnya, inside Dagestan, a little bit, 
some less, in Ingushetia. but anyway, it’s a global trend for the area.  I have 
nothing against Islam, anyway; that’s normal.  But when more and more Islam, as 
well as the Caucasian traditions, so-called at that, becoming the main pillars 
of behavior in the societies – after the communism, after an aborted 
modernization – I think it’s a problem.  Because the Northern Caucasus – even 
Dagestan, even Chechnya – it’s not Saudi Arabia.  It’s a step back and not 
forward.  I repeat, I have nothing against Islam.  

Well, of course, there is Islamic opposition.  It was mentioned, Islam is used 
as a tool by secular administration.  It’s funny – after the collapse of the 
Soviet Union, there is a certain Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, who is a 
secular president recognized – or said that he recognized – that Chechnya is a 
part of Russia and so on, but at the same time, he pretends to be a spiritual 
leader.  It’s Islamic tradition.  

Of course, he doesn’t want to become a mullah or imam, but who knows what we’ll 
have in the future because it’s not a problem of Caucasus.  But in Tajikistan, 
president of Tajikistan, a very respected Emomalii Rahmonov – former member of 
Communist Party – he pretends to become an imam – a religious leader.  So it’s 
a trend.  It’s a tendency that covers not only Caucasus but, in general, the 
post-Soviet space.  It’s funny, but it’s so. 

Well, once again, I repeat that Svetlana mentioned the problem that federal law 
doesn’t work in Chechnya, in Dagestan – well, practically everywhere.  This is 
a principle of relations between clans, between families, between groups of 
interest which dominate.  And this is, I would say, a political basement, or 
bed-ground, of the relations between locals.  What are the relations between 
federal center in Northern Caucasus?  

If federal law doesn’t work in Northern Caucasus – and, by the way, at the same 
time it doesn’t practically work in Russia, itself; to justify my opinion, I 
can mention the case of Khodorkovsky and I think it’s enough – and from that 
point of view, some presidents in Northern Caucasus try to imitate, in 
Caucasian style, what Putin is doing, or Medvedev, or whom – I don’t know, 
maybe both. 

Well, so, what is the main principle of the relations between Moscow and the 
rest?  Well, if you grant, as in Moscow, stability, you may do, in your 
republics, everything you want – everything you want.  So it means that you are 
responsible for Moscow only as far as the stability is concerned.  And then you 
may use Islam, Adat, Shariah – do all that.

This is a principle that I told before – but it seems like this principle 
failed, or begins to fail.  I don’t know about future; I don’t want to predict 
anything.  But I cannot imagine how it can be continued because, let’s imagine 
that some of you are presidents of the republics of Northern Caucasus, and you 
are dealing all the time with a weak center – weak, federal center.  So Ramzan 
– he constructs, he builds his relations with Moscow on this idea.  

Well, I am responsible here.  I am very strong!  So I can do here everything, 
and if you are against, well, you may choose someone else.  And I don’t know 
what is the option of Moscow if, for instance, Ramzan Kadyrov, disappears from 
political scene or from the earth.  It will create a lot of problems for 
everybody, believe me. 

Anyway, we talked about special relations between federal center and local 
elites.  We mentioned the problem of absence of law.  We mentioned a lot of 
times, Islam, Islamization, the second wave, next wave, and so on.  What it 
means, in general?  Sometimes I hear about separatism – about renaissance of 
separatism in Dagestan, in Chechnya.  I don’t believe.  They will stay in the 
frames of Russian federation, because nobody needs – in Europe; I don’t know 
about the United States – but nobody needs a totally independent Chechnya.  As 
well as, nobody needs completely independent semi-Wahhabi, semi-Islamist, 
semi-traditional Dagestan.  So what to do with it – with them? 

So they will stay.  All of them will stay in the frames in the boundaries of 
Russian federation.  But from the point of culture, from the point of your 
mentality, from the point of the organization of their societies, they are 
flouting from federal center.  They are driving from Russia.  Well, it’s 
different societies in Siberia and in Dagestan.  And by the way, in Siberia, 
nobody wants to talk about Dagestani problem – that’s your problems; that’s 
problem of Moscow, of Caucasus, and it’s not a problem of Siberia – of Urals, 
and so on.  

So the domestic abroad – or inner-abroad – is emerging on the territory of 
Russian Federation.  This is a problem sometimes understandable for scholars, 
but practically not understandable for (tandem ?).  I beg your pardon.  So what 
about the future?  As usual, we are asked, what do you think will happen in a 
year?  I don’t know.  

It depends on a lot of things.  In particular, getting to my opinion, it 
depends on how the crisis – economic crisis – will develop.  If it’s bad, we’ll 
have some – I don’t know – not the Grand Revolution, of course, but some riots 
in Dagestan and Chechnya because of lack of money, because of unemployment, 
standard of living, and so on.  I cannot admit it; it is quite possible. 

What the Kremlin proposed to avoid such evolution?  As usual, to pay local 
elites, to send money from federal budget, and so on.  They don’t think of the 
possibility of modernization.  Even more, if suddenly – I can’t believe it, I 
can admit it – but anyway, if they put forward some idea of modernization of 
Northern Caucasus, I think it will be senseless because the time is missed.

And to finish, it’s a Russian problem, I mean – the Northern Caucasus – and so 
on.  But don’t forget that this is in Muslim territory.  It is part of the 
Muslim world.  Nowadays, of course everybody, even very – some lazy politicians 
in Moscow or here – they speak about Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine – that’s 
normal, that’s true.  But if Caucasus – if Chechnya, if Dagestan – are ignored, 
that will be a very big mistake, because, as I think, while there is not a 
Muslim space, not a Muslim solidarity or something else, there is a Muslim, I 
would say, soup.  Yes?  

And so many ties between different parties, between different groups, between 
Chechnya and Talibs, between Dagestan and also, by the way, Talibs – there are 
some people there; some in Afghanistan – between Islamic radicals in Central 
Asia – I can continue, I can continue.  So the point is, don’t forget about 
Northern Caucasus.  We shouldn’t forget about it because – (in Russian) – 
sometimes it seems to me that, after two Chechen wars, people begin to think 
that everything is okay and there is no war.  It’s a big mistake – very big 
mistake.  Look at this part of the Caucasian part of Russia.  And now I give 
the floor to Elena who will talk about some Dagestan – the incredibly difficult 
situations in this republic.  So don’t forget about Caucasus, despite Iran, 
despite the victory of Ahmadinejad.  

ELENA MILASHINA:  Hello, I’m sorry.  I will speak Russian because it’s a little 
bit of a tough subject for me.  

(Note:  Ms. Milashina’s remarks are delivered via translator.)

I will offer you my view of a reporter because as a reporter, I’m always 
wondering how the entire agenda is formed for mass media and how the situation 
is covered and expressed through the eyes or through the palette of a media 
outlet.  I actually noticed that a long time ago that in covering North 
Caucasus region, there would be always one ethnic province that will be 
dominating the news for one or another reason.

And usually, the number one topic covered on the agenda is the fight against 
Wahhabi Islam.  They would be saying something to the effect of, yes, there is 
a problem of emerging Wahhabi Islam in the particular ethnic province, but 
there is a counterterrorist operation going on to counter these forces of 
Wahhabi, radical Islam, and these forces have a final objective of separating 
this ethnic province from Russia. 

We observed this in coverage of the situation in Chechnya.  There was a lot of 
talk about Wahhabi radicalism and counterterrorism prior to Ramzan Kadyrov 
acceding to power there; as soon as he took the helm, there were reports on 
things calming down.  And the same thing happened in Ingushetia:  Just two 
years ago, also, they were talking about the dangers of Wahhabi Islam, and then 
when, two years ago, there was a transfer of power from the President – and so 
this campaign in mass media started about two years ago, but as soon as there 
was a transfer of presidential authority from President Zyazikov to President 
Yevkurov, things calmed down. 

And now I see Dagestan and a situation in this ethnic province on the top of 
the agenda and this is a characteristic sign of a power struggle going on in 
Dagestan right now because the future of the presidency is at stake.  
Therefore, we have to really separate these two issues.  One is the real 
situation in the Northern Caucasus as far as the withstanding of religious 
fundamentalism as I call it – some people or refer it or brand it as Wahhabi 
Islam – and its grip on the society there and the other issue. 

Then the second issue is clearly a political one; it’s a political struggle, a 
fight between various clans for political influence.  This fight against 
radical Islam or against Wahhabis becomes a bargaining chip.  It’s a way to 
appeal to the federal center in Moscow to demonstrate the current government 
authority in the province is very weak, not being able to resist or withstand 
and counter religious fundamentalism, so there is a need for a new leader for 
the province.  So this is a way to bring about the change and replacement of 
the political elites.  

And I would like to give you a little historical background on the current 
situation in Dagestan.  First of all, I must say that Dagestan was not 
mentioned as a hotspot until 1999, as far as terrorism and religious 
fundamentalist activities.  In August of 1999, the ideologues of so-called 
“pure Islam” of Chechen background, Basayev, and also somebody named Khattab, 
made an incursion into Dagestan – in the high mountains of Dagestan – and were 
trying to impose these religious laws on that particular area.  

The idea was to separate from Russia and, as a result of this incursion, a law 
was enacted within the ethnic province banning and prohibiting Wahhabi Islam.  
In this particular sense it is a unique region where it’s the only regional 
party to the federation in Russia that has this specific law prohibiting 
Wahhabi Islam. 

But it’s a curious thing because no legal scholar can give a definition of 
Wahhabi Islam, at least as it is put in the law.  And this confusion is 
prevalent, not just for the Russians but also for Dagestan itself.  And 
therefore somebody who is professing a different form of Islam – not the 
mainstream form of Islam – can be branded a Wahhabi and brought on trial on 
charges of a radical Wahhabi Islam, even though these people might be very far 
from trying to get that particular region separated from Russia.

And it’s been almost 10 years since this law was enacted.  In September there 
will be exactly 10 years since the law was passed.  And we can state the 
obvious that under the guise of this law there is a very serious 
interdenominational strife and conflict when followers of Islam of different 
denominations are fighting against each other.

Usually the ideologues of this fight are Sufi Muslims but they perpetuate this 
fight and they get support from the law enforcement primarily, from the local 
law enforcement community.  And the methods and techniques used by law 
enforcement agencies against so-called Wahhabi Muslims are very abusive and 
violent.  I can give you just one example.  There is a person whose name is 
Magomedshakir Magomedov.  He is a 44-year-old gentleman.

He was kidnapped on March the 2nd this year when he went to his native village 
to register his kids.  And the next day he was shown on TV, there was a machine 
gun lying next to him, and the announcer said that the person was captured as 
he was covering up the retreat of an armed gang of insurgents and he was 
shooting at the troops of the interior ministry until the very last bullet.

The relatives were able to create enough momentum and noise so eventually the 
body of this 44-year-old man was given to them.  It was done primarily through 
the efforts of this nongovernmental organization in Dagestan that Ms. 
Gannushkina referred to.  It was Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights.  So that 
organization was instrumental in helping the relatives to get the body.  

Then the Mothers of Dagestan followed the same routine that they use when the 
bodies of the diseased are transferred from the law enforcement custodies to 
their relatives.  They invited a forensic specialist and they videotaped the 
entire process of forensic analysis of the body.  

I saw the tape and it was very vivid tape that looked at the trauma to the body 
of the deceased.  I had an impression that his flesh was cut off his body while 
the person was still alive.  They drilled through his teeth and pierced his 
earlobes by hot needles.  

And, unfortunately, this is a pattern that we’ve seen, a number of these tapes. 
 These are methods and techniques that are used by law enforcement agencies 
that by stature are supposed to protect human rights and liberties and rule of 
law.

And these actions are taken with the sense of impunity because I don’t remember 
if anybody in law enforcement community was brought to justice for using 
abusive interrogation or torture techniques on those suspected in Wahhabi 
activities.  So this causes evident and obvious opposition and adverse reaction 
on behalf of the population. 

So what this fight against Wahhabi Islam in Dagestan burns down to is police 
officers torture and kill those they suspect in Wahhabi activities and, in 
turn, the relatives of the deceased take up their arms and kill those who 
perpetrated these things against their relatives.

And the last thing, there is a lot of crime in Dagestan and particularly 
alarming is the rate of contract killings, and sometimes they are also 
presented as the activities of Wahhabi Muslims.  

I am inclined to think that this latest assassination of the minister of 
internal affairs of Dagestan was a contract killing and the primary purpose of 
it was to destabilize the internal political situation Dagestan.  Thank you.  

MR. PARKER:  Thank you all for your presentations; we now have time to turn it 
over to you, the audience.  And we have a microphone over here and I would ask 
that you identify yourself and organization, if you’re representing one.  We 
have an opportunity for questions and also I recognize that there is a fair 
amount of expertise in the audience, so if you have a brief comment that you 
would like to add, please feel free to do so.  

Let me get things started off myself then here.  You know, as I listen to 
everybody’s presentation, it’s such a complex mess there in the Caucasus – I 
mean, it’s just so many different actors, so many different factions, whether – 
you have violence that seems to be coming from radical Islam, some of which 
appears to be sort of indigenous Islam, some which appears to be some foreign 
influence.  

I think here in Washington, at least our most recent experience in looking at 
this part of the world comes from the second Chechen war.  And here, 
particularly in Congress, there are so many issues that are vying for the 
attention of members of Congress and policy-makers, and certainly this is far 
down the list on those things that sort of appear in the news, particularly 
without a major war.  And even the war in Chechnya was not widely covered.

And so I think at least here, from a Washington audience’s perspective, sort of 
understanding the real differences between Dagestan and Chechnya; understanding 
just what – what does the future hold?  It seems to me from the presentations 
and from what I’ve been able to follow and read and conversations that the 
prospect of separatism isn’t very real in Dagestan probably because of the 
complex ethnic makeup.  

You have sometime like 30 major ethnic groups, and probably more, and speaking 
roughly 30 different languages that are related but not mutually intelligible, 
and sort of this Jamaat structure from the way Dagestan was settled, which 
obviously has to do with the high mountains; Dagestan really being the cradle 
of Islam in Russia – you know Derbent is the oldest city in the Russian 
Federation.  Compared to at least Chechnya’s history, Islam is much older in 
Dagestan and this structure around the Jamaat and sort of the local village 
council.  That being the case, are we looking at sort of just perpetual 
violence and instability that will – how does it spill over if it does?  What’s 
the answer? 

And is the problem, in terms of from Moscow’s perspective, is this a situation 
where it’s a lack of political will or a fear for any mid- to high-level 
official in Moscow to sort of own the problem in an area that has been nothing 
but problems.  Or is it – or does some of it stem from simply a lack of 
understanding of the region?

I sat down a couple weeks ago with Enver Kisriev, a serious expert on Dagestan 
at the Russian Academy of Sciences and had at least a two-hour conversation – 
and still don’t feel like I am grasping the source of the issue.  And I’m 
thinking that experts like Professor Kisriev, yourselves, are far and few 
between.  Is it the case that the policy-makers in Moscow simply don’t 
understand the complicated fabric of society in Dagestan to ever be able to 
impose a solution? 

I know I’m throwing out a lot of sort of comment with questions, and please 
feel free to take them and follow them where you will.  But it also seems that 
one of the issues is the abandonment of the previous system of government in 
Dagestan, which to me is sort of vaguely reminiscent of Lebanon pre-civil war, 
where you had sort of an allocation.  The Avars got so many positions in 
certain ministries, the Lezgis, the Laks, the Kumyks.

And that that – although messy – seemed to preserve the stability, and now 
where you have what looks to be sort of a federally imposed, sort of vertical 
structure that doesn’t seem to be working.  Anyway, I have a whole bunch more 
and I hope folks in the audience do, but why don’t we start with that and we’ll 
– would you like to –

MR.:  Would you let me translate?

MR. PARKER:  Oh, I’m sorry.  Yeah, please. Just one moment, the interpreter 
will translate. 

MR.:  (In Russian.)

MS. MILASHINA:  Well, the thing is, I will try to cover the issue that has to 
do with the political will.  The thing is that there was a document that was 
prepared by Dmitry Kozak who was the plenipotentiary representative of the 
Russian Federation in the southern federal district.  The memo was prepared in 
1995 and only parts of that memo – 2005 – and only parts of that memo was 
publicized.  

Well, that report was showing that the Russian government fully understands the 
complexity of issues in Dagestan in particular.  And it was clear the 
number-one priority for the Russian government in Dagestan was not Wahhabi 
Islam or separatism.  Well, the separatism is not in the future for Dagestan 
primarily because it is populated by different ethnic groups that are in 
perpetual conflict with each other.  So Russia plays a role of pacifier and the 
guarantor of stability in the region.  

But number-one priority according to Kremlin was corruption and also the clan 
and the political feud as well as scales of so-called shadow economy.  The 
shadow economy in Dagestan is very large.  And prompted by Dmitry Kozak, Mukhu 
Aliyev, his man in Dagestan and who is the president of Dagestan, instituted 
this reform of the national council of Dagestan that was initially formed with 
proportional representation from each ethnic group and that was the primary 
tool in fighting in those clan structures.  

Well, as they say, we hoped for the best, but you know the rest.  You know, 
very often when the people or the leadership in Russia is moved by the best 
intentions the results are quite contrary.  Well, and the main reason for the 
failure of the process is a single factor of laws not working – not just in 
that particular part of Russia but on the entire territory.  There are checks 
and balances, but these checks and balances are people, not laws or legal 
entities.  And because of these people, the effect was quite different from 
what was intended.  

And I would also have – saying in Russian, it burns down to there the power 
vacuum is not going to be there for a long time.  So if there is no rule of 
law, no accepted rules that people follow and play by; people invent their own 
rules, sometimes very violent and very harsh and they try to sort out their 
differences by using those other rules. 

And I believe that this can lead not just to the actual separation of Dagestan 
from Russia, but it could bring separation of Dagestan from the region of 
Northern Caucasus.  

(Note:  The following sentence not via translator.)  Not only Dagestan 
separated from Russia, but the whole North Caucasus will separated, if the 
things will go like that.  

(Note:  Continues via translator.)

MS. GANNUSHKINA:  Well, I would probably follow on what Elena just said; I 
think that the disintegration is Russia is one of the possible scenarios, to my 
profound regret.  Of course, forecasting could have taken more than just two 
hours; we could have been sitting here for months discussing possible forecasts 
and scenarios.  

So why do your law enforcement agencies act in Dagestan and Northern Caucasus 
the way they do?  Because they don’t know any other way and because they are 
allowed to.  And this boundless authority and arbitrariness and impunity is a 
trait and characteristic not just of the law enforcement in Northern Caucasus, 
but in the entire country of Russia.  The system is corrupt through and 
through.  

Of course, not everybody working in a law enforcement agency is a sadist, but 
if a sadist finds himself in a position of a law enforcement officer, he can 
fully realize himself.  I would agree that the political leadership in Dagestan 
is not willing and considering separation from Russia as an option because such 
separation would cause extreme internal and interethnic strife within the 
province. 

But this is what might be result of a nearsighted policy.  And primarily I’m 
talking about the policy that was instituted by President Putin and now is 
fully implemented – that the governors of provinces are not popularly elected 
but appointed.  It certainly didn’t help with better control over a situation 
and didn’t help to stabilize the vertical integration of government.  It 
created a situation when a chief executive in a particular area does not report 
or is not accountable to the people that live in that area.  At the same time 
he reports to Kremlin and he usually tells Kremlin what Kremlin wants to hear, 
which is a typical situation.  So nobody gives the true information.  

And one other thing, while we’re still on a forecasting mode:  Is there a 
possibility for having an outward war in Dagestan similar to what happened in 
Chechnya?  I think we can run a parallel but not with the war in Chechnya but 
with the conflict in Ossetia, in North Ossetia where there is some interethnic 
strife between Ossetians and Ingush.  Under Stalinist deportation policy, 
Ingush were deported from that area of North Ossetia and now a lot of Ingush 
repatriated there and, in addition to that, Ingush Republic is now demanding to 
return this land to be a part of Ingush Province.

I recently visited the Kazbek region of Dagestan.  I could see something 
similar to that.  I briefly mentioned it in my initial statement.  Repatriated 
Chechens claim this land as theirs.  And they complain; they say, why can’t we 
hold any government positions?  Why can’t we work in law enforcement?  Why all 
of these key positions can be given only to the Avars.

Let’s just – they say, let’s just follow the Islamic tradition.  We came back 
to our native land so you have to go back to yours.  And Avars respond to the 
fact that, well, we were brought here by force.  We were taken from up high in 
the mountains and we can’t go back; all of our settlements there are in ruins.  
We won’t be able to survive there.

And I think that, based on our experience working in this other area, we can 
introduce the same concept in Dagestan.  How can we reconcile two warring 
ethnic groups?  Yes, we can hold a round table and workshops, talk about 
tolerance.  But – (in Russian).  Yeah, but as one of the local leaders in 
Prigorodny district in Ossetia told me, the best way to solve this issue is to 
employ people, give them work so they would have something to do eight hours a 
day, so they would have a 40-minute lunch break and during that lunch break 
they would talk about work and their pay would be a living wage so they could 
have decent livelihoods.

And I believe it’s true.  Then we can separate arguments about history and 
arguments about life.  And in the center, we have the organization that deals 
with interethnic harmonization.  What do we do there?  We teach small business 
skills.  We basically teach people who come there how to be self-employed, how 
to put some food on the table.

And, of course, in addition to that, there are certain events for children, a 
number of other entertainment projects.  And we had six months of experience so 
far to see how people who were sitting as far apart from each other as they 
could now formed some joint business ventures.  So how can we help them?  We 
need to be there.  So there’s got to be some presence there so people wouldn’t 
think that they were abandoned.  

We need to bring textbooks to their schools because their schools are in 
terrible shape – no textbooks at all.  We need to assist and help these people 
to organize their livelihoods.  This would certainly solve a lot of issues.

MR. PARKER:  Perhaps we could take a few more questions all in a row and then 
turn it over to the panel.  Sir?  Thank you for your patience.

Q:  Alexei (ph) for American Russian Service.  (In Russian.)

MR. PARKER:  Could you ask the question in English and then the interpreter 
will translate?

Q:  Could you explain, in Russia media, a lot of references about foreign 
powers who has actual influence on this region as one of the sources of 
instability of Dagestan, for example.  Can you explain your own opinion about 
who has any influence on Wahhabi underground or any other clans and tribes in 
this region?  Saudi Arabia, United States, Israel, Iran.  Thanks.

MR. PARKER:  Thank you.  Before we answer, a few other questions.  Michael?

Q:  I was interested in getting your thoughts.  With Russia’s rising Muslim 
population, what implications or impacts –

MR. PARKER:  Will you please identify yourself for the record.

Q:  Oh, it’s Major Robert Horton (sp), United States Air Force.  So 
implications of Russia’s rising Muslim population from instability in the North 
Caucasus and potentially any of the repression against the Islam.

MR. PARKER:  Others?  Other questions?  Please.  Comments?

Q:  (Inaudible) – from CSIS.  My question pertains to what –

MR. PARKER:  Can you please clarify for the transcribers your name again?

Q:  Matt Procapa (sp) from CSIS, Center for Strategic and International 
Studies.  What international organizations do you think will be more effective 
to address the situation in North Caucasus and would the new leadership in the 
CSE and – (inaudible), would this new leadership be able to tackle this issue?  
Thanks.

MR. PARKER:  What new leadership in CSE?

Q:  The Kazakhstan leadership.

MR. PARKER:  The Kazakhstan chairmanship.

Q:  Yes, would be able to change the situation or somehow deal with it.  Thanks.

MR. PARKER:  Did you understand?  I think the question was, will the new – 
Kazakhstan is set to chair an organization for security cooperation starting in 
January.  The current chair is Greece.  Kazakhstan will actually be the first 
chair from the post-Soviet states.  And that will last for one year.  Please, 
three questions.

Professor, would you like to start?

MR. MALASHENKO:  Well, about impact from abroad to Dagestan.  Alexander, look, 
of course, no comparisons between what we had in ’90s.  The penetration, I 
would say, or something else, it’s a very, very weakened, not compatible with 
what we have some 10 years ago.  But, at the same time, at the same time, what 
Saudian, for instance, or people from Kuwait, indeed, they help to reconstruct 
educational systems.  And, of course, the institutions in Dagestan, their 
influence is felt, yes?  I would say.

As to the assistance to Jamaat and to Azeri, I would say, some radical 
organizations, don’t underrate it.  In 2000, the armed – the ’90s.  So the main 
roots, the main problems, it derives from local situation and not from abroad.  
And when I’m reading about a huge penetration of Arabs to Dagestan, it’s not so.

So the situation is totally different.  By the way, there are official ties 
between local elites, between governments, between presidents and their brother 
in faith, in Saudi, in Kuwait and so on.  They are running to hajj every year.  
Really they have economic ties, maybe even a personal economic ties and 
economic interest.  But, I repeat, as far as radical penetration, at the 
moment, it’s not so dangerous.

Well, about Muslims.  Maybe I didn’t understand the question about maybe 
demography or what it was.  So the population, the number of Muslims in Russia 
is unknown.  It hesitates between 15.5 to 20.  Well, I think it’s some – maybe 
around 19 or 19.5.  Why?  Because we have to take into consideration migration 
from Central Asia and from Azerbaijan.

Also it’s extremely difficult to count how many people we have coming from 
Tajikistan, from Uzbekistan.  Months ago, we had a conference in Bishkek about 
migration from Central Asia.  Well, the figures, the information, was quite 
different.  But if to summarize approximately, we have 2 millions of migration 
from Central Asia, mostly from Uzbekistan, from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.  
It’s true.

And if we add about a million-and-a-half from Azerbaijan, it’s possible.  So 
we’ll get this 19 or something around 20 millions.  It doesn’t mean that Russia 
will become a Muslim country in 10 years; that’s impossible, of course.  But 
the rate – the percentage of the population, of Muslim population of course 
will raise.  And that’s no doubt.

And from that point of view, I cannot meet that in 2050, we’ll have maybe 25, 
maybe something like that of persons of Muslim population.  But one thing I 
want to add:  There is an idea spread even by official muftis, official Muslim 
clergymen who are very loyal to Kremlin, to Moscow, they say sometimes that 
Russia is a Christian country temporarily.  And in 100 years, Russia will 
become a Muslim country.

Nowadays, of course, it sounds like a propaganda, but this idea, I think it’s 
very exciting.  (In Russian.)

Just a minute, yes, yes.  And I don’t think that in Kremlin this factor is 
taken into consideration.  I don’t think.  While there are different aspects, 
of course, which are very important, for instance, the presence of Muslim 
soldiers in Russian army, that creates some problems.  It’s not very, very 
difficult, but anyway, military men, sometimes they recognize that more and 
more it becomes an equation because young men in Muslim societies and Muslim 
communities, that’s the biggest part.  (Inaudible) – but if the Soviet Union 
didn’t collapse, approximately 32 or 33 percent of Russian military men were 
Muslims.  So that’s interesting.

MS. MILASHINA:  Just one little thing I’d like to add to it is that it’s very 
characteristic of the entire Northern Caucasus region is more than 50 percent 
of the population are younger than 30.  And there is also an abundance of labor 
in the region.  Usually there was labor migration during the Soviet Union.  
Traditionally, that’s how this issue was resolved.  But, unfortunately, because 
of the current policy in Kremlin and because in the aftermath, in the wake of 
two Chechen wars, the society becomes more and more xenophobic.

And there is a curious situation.  There are a lot of migrant workers, guest 
workers, in Russian cities that are primarily immigrants from Central Asia.  
But those who come from the Northern Caucasus usually encounter hostility on 
behalf of the local population and much more so than those coming from the 
former Soviet republics.  And it’s much harder for someone who came from 
Northern Caucasus to get employment as a migrant worker.

And we see two migratory trends.  The first one is when oil rig workers who 
were employed in Surgut or in Tumen in the northern regions of Siberia, they go 
back to Dagestan.  At the same time, ethnic Russians are leaving Dagestan.

MS. GANNUSHKINA:  (Note:  The following sentence not via translator.)  In 
Causasus, it’s common for all Caucasian regions, these tendencies.

(Note:  Continues via translator.)  Well, it’s an alarming sign because even 
though we don’t have border delineation between Northern Caucasus and Russia, 
but we already have this separation of population between Russia proper and 
Northern Caucasus.

The people living across that nondelineated border feel more like strangers.  
So we came here to the U.S. and in D.C. we’ve been asking a lot of questions 
that are not very different from questions that Russians would have for us as 
experts on the region because a lot of Russians don’t quite understand what’s 
going on in the area.

I would just like to follow up with a comment that in Tumen, that was just 
mentioned by Elena, is the region where, just recently, they held a number of 
trials where defendants were accused of practicing radical Islam: the mosques 
are closed down, people are not allowed to worship.

And the charges are often fabricated, but Quran is often used as evidence 
against these defendants.  Advocacy, human-rights advocacy organizations 
receive a lot of letters from penitentiaries and from armed forces that those 
who would like to worship are not allowed to.  And, as a contrast, a Russian 
Orthodox priest would visit inmates in prison or a penitentiary while those who 
are of a different faith, Muslims, are inmates in the same prison, would be 
berated by both the priests and followers of Christian faith and by the 
administration of the penitentiary.

In Volgograd in a large government penitentiary during Friday prayer, the 
authorities would turn on the loud speaker and would be broadcasting lewd 
rhymes during the ceremony of Friday prayer by a Muslim imam.  There were a few 
instances of hate crimes, murders committed in the Russian armed forces based 
on religious intolerance.

Well, you can only imagine what kind of sense of patriotism does this type of 
treatment instills in those of Muslim persuasion, actually return back to their 
homes.  And these are closed systems because nobody would admit that it 
happens.  And if it doesn’t happen, how can you counter or fight it?

MR. PARKER:  Thank you, Svetlana.  We have a few more minutes, if there are any 
further questions or possible comments from the audience, please.  

Q:  (Off mike.)

MR. PARKER:  Yeah, sure, it helps the transcribers.

Q:  Hi, my name is Erica Omart (ph).  I’m from the Jim Stein Foundation.  I 
have two short questions.  First, how popular is Putin in North Caucasus and in 
Dagestan in particular?  And, second, are there any indigenous newspapers or TV 
channels in North Caucasus and in Dagestan or is it mostly covered by Moscow 
channels and newspapers.  Thank you.

MR. PARKER:  Any further questions.  I would also add a couple of very 
specifics to Erica’s questions.  You asked about Putin; what about Ramzan 
Kadyrov?  What is his image and influence in the broader region and, 
particularly, in Dagestan?  Also, very quickly, what role, if any, is 
Azerbaijan and Georgia playing?  Obviously the border there is very mountainous 
and remote; I suspect it’s not much of a role.

And, lastly, of the numerous ethnic groups in Dagestan and in regions and the 
violence, the Avars, obviously a prominent group, the president the interior 
minister.  Are there two or three groups that one could cite or two or three 
regions for sort of the nexus of most of the violence or instability?  And is 
the flatland region in northern Dagestan, is that really pretty entirely 
separate?  I think that was appended to Dagestan in one of these Stalinist sort 
of re-drawing of the maps.  Is that really a region we’re not really talking 
about when we talk about all of this instability and violence?

MS. GANNUSHKINA:  I would like to pick and choose, if you allow me, because I 
am the only one in this room, probably, who saw Mr. Putin displaying very 
strong Islamophobia.  I am a member of an advisory council under the president 
of the Russian Federation and I was present at four meetings with the president.

There were two meetings when I remember Putin losing his temper, even though, 
overall, he’s a very pleasant, good-meaning person.  The first topic that 
causes some contention was Khodorkovsky.  I can tell that he takes it seriously 
and he takes it personally, very personally.  It was very unusual for a 
president.

And the second hot-button topic is Islam, about human-rights violations in 
Chechnya, about radical Islamization.  He kept telling us, you don’t 
understand.  Yes, I understand human rights, et cetera, but there is a real 
threat or clear and present danger of Islamic caliphate.

You’re saying that, yes, our law enforcement agencies and interior troops 
commit acts of violence against civilians, but see what did the civilians 
commit?  Yesterday they killed a police officer.  And here’s a particular thing 
that I found very interesting.  It was not our police officer; it was a Chechen 
police officer.  And I couldn’t help – and I asked him, Vladimir Vladimirovich, 
even though he was a Chechen police officer, he was still ours.

Well, he brushed me away saying, they are all the same; they are all Islamists, 
separatists.  Just recently they all were hiking up in the mountains with some 
machine gun.  This is a good illustration to what Elena was just saying.  The 
highest government authority doesn’t view a Chechen police officer as “one of 
ours.”  This is unsubstantiated fear, a phobia of some abstract caliphate, as 
if it’s hiding somewhere behind the – and expressed by the president of a 
country.

Now a few words about Ramzan.  I would say, for part of the young generation, 
Ramzan is certainly a role model.  He is strong.  He can do anything and he’s 
allowed to do anything.  Part of the population views him as inevitable evil or 
at least they stopped bombing us, they say.  And, of course, intellectuals just 
can’t stand him.  

I would say that Chechnya has a fairly large stratum of intelligentsia, of 
intellectuals.  And the organization conducts workshops for high school 
teachers.  And I must say, when we conduct these seminars and workshops, the 
FSB keeps an eye on us.  And usually, when we talk about Ramzan, this sentiment 
can be summarized as, I don’t believe our nation has not deserved something 
better than that.  

And there’s only one type of relationship that’s possible with Ramzan; it’s 
total subordination and flattery.  So people who have to take the offer, they 
can’t refuse to become one of his inner circle or somebody in the government 
would become his subordinates and his lackeys.  And they will have to report on 
everything they see.  They become informants, what happened to a former 
managing editor of Chechen Obshchestvo, a newspaper who is now one of the aides 
of Ramzan.

MR. PARKER:  Well, we are just about out of time here.  I’d like to thank 
everybody for coming.  In particular, I’d like to thank our expert panel here 
for traveling all the way from Russia and also would just like to point out; 
I’m sure many of you have read the bios or know of our experts here, but it 
really is an honor for us to provide this forum.  We know of the difficult 
circumstances that you work under in Russia.  A number of your names are on 
these lists of enemies of the Russian people and these extremist lists.  A 
number of your colleagues have been murdered for their work.

Elena comes to us from a newspaper that has lost four journalists in recent 
years: Mr. Domnikov, Mr. Shchekochikhin, Ms. Politkovskaya and, most recently, 
in January, Anastasia Baburova.  None of these murders have been solved.  I 
just wanted to underscore the sobering reality from where you’re coming from 
and the great difficulty that you operate in.  

It’s certainly our pleasure and honor to host you here.  Dagestan is a topic 
and the North Caucasus, in general, that we will continue to focus on.  The 
commission hopes to visit the region.  We have not been to the region in years. 
 The U.S. government has very little penetration and presence, particularly due 
to the security concerns in the region.  So, hopefully, possibly in the fall.  
And also an announcement to everybody:  You can find our events and transcripts 
on the Web site.  This event will be transcribed and, eventually, I think, 
there will be a webcast up on – you know, if you want to review.  

And next week, next Tuesday, the 23rd, we have a hearing on Russia’s human 
rights record from 10:00 to noon in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, SVC 202-203.  
And we’ll be looking at issues of Russia’ compliance with human rights 
commitments ahead of the summit in July, President Obama’s first trip to 
Moscow.  We will look at three areas: the area of religious freedom, press 
freedom and business freedom in Russia.  And that’s next week, for those who 
are interested.  And it will be posted on the Web site.  

And, for those of us who don’t get our notices and reports, there’s an 
opportunity to subscribe online:  It is csce.gov.  I’d like to thank you all 
for coming and the briefing is adjourned.

(END)





COMMISSION ON 
SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE: 
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION

DAGESTAN: 
A NEW FLASHPOINT IN RUSSIA’S NORTH CAUCASUS

SPEAKERS:
SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA,
CHAIR, CIVIC ASSISTANCE COMMITTEE FOR REFUGEES

ALEXEI MALASHENKO,
SCHOLAR-IN-RESIDENCE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT, MOSCOW

ELENA MILASHINA,
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, NOVAYA GAZETA

TUESDAY, JUNE 16, 2009

THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 10:11 A.M. TO 12:05 P.M. IN ROOM 1539 LONGWORTH HOUSE 
OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [KYLE PARKER, POLICY ADVISOR FOR EURASIA, 
CSCE], MODERATING




Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.




KYLE PARKER:  Good morning.  Does this work and everybody can hear?  I’d like 
to welcome everybody to this morning’s Helsinki Commission briefing on the 
situation in Dagestan.  We’d like to get started here because how we sort of 
envision a briefing is really an opportunity for an informal discussion with 
members of the audience and questions.  At the commission, we receive a lot of 
groups – a lot of delegations, NGOs – from Russia and regions we cover and this 
is sort of our way of opening it up to the public and having that reception and 
that discussion publicly.  The remarks are transcribed and do become part of 
our official record.  

So Dagestan, the most populated and largest of the North Caucasus republics in 
Southern Russia, has been in the news quite a lot lately – not a whole lot of 
the news is good.  I was sort of reading Tatyana Lokshina’s piece from a couple 
of days ago and she says here:  “There’s never a quiet moment in Dagestan.  
There are all the counterterrorism operations where entire houses are destroyed 
and helicopters fire away into mountain gorges.  There are explosions in the 
streets, and finding bombs that have not gone off yet has become a routine 
event.  

“Dagestan provides a lot of news, none of it any good.  And, yet, few people 
really understand what is happening there.  It is hard to get an objective 
picture of events in such a complex place, home to more than 30 ethnic groups 
speaking numerous languages.  In fact, it is all but impossible, even more so 
when the media propagate myths that are often beyond absurd.”

I certainly hope today’s discussion helps us to better understand this very 
complex region.  And we have three distinguished experts who have just arrived, 
I believe, from Russia a couple of days ago.  We’re very happy to have them 
here and would like to especially thank Freedom House and Ele Asoyan for 
helping us to put this together.  We often have to rely on who’s here in 
Washington to brief us and sometimes you get tired of the same old experts and 
the same old pundits we have.  So it’s nice to have some serious expertise from 
the region.

We may be joined today by our chairman, Alcee Hastings.  And I think we’ll try 
to keep – we do have to go through an interpreter, so let’s try to keep remarks 
to about 10 minutes per panelist, and I think we’ll finish all three 
presentations and then move to question and answer.  Hopefully, we can have a 
lively discussion following the presentations.  And I would like to start with 
Svetlana Gannushkina.

SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA:  It’s okay?

MR. PARKER:  Yeah.  And I assume everybody has had a chance to pick up the 
witness biographies.  I won’t spend any time on them.  But you can read about 
our distinguished panelists in the handouts.  And there are some out there if 
anyone didn’t get any.

(Note:  Ms. Gannushkina’s remarks are delivered via translator.)

MS. GANNUSHKINA:  Good morning.  When we talk about Northern Caucasus, we mean 
primarily a number of ethnic provinces.  And they are Chechnya, Ingush 
Republic, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and 
Dagestan.  Cumulatively, the population of the entire region is not more than 6 
million people, but the most populous of these provinces is Dagestan, with a 
population of about 2.5 million people.

Dagestan is the most complex, multiethnic province.  But all of these provinces 
have a lot of commonalities that more or less characterize the overall 
situation in the region.  There is a high level of unemployment, and the 
highest level of unemployment is in Dagestan – up to 80 percent – also, 
poverty, which is more typical for Dagestan rather than to other republics.  
Unbelievable level of corruption exceeding the average corruption level 
throughout Russia by a few times.  I can quote President Medvedev, who said 
that corruption affected the entire government – the bureaucracy of Russia – 
from the top down to the bottom.

There is also arbitrariness on behalf of the government officials, both at the 
federal level and provincial and local level, and the absence of rule of law – 
and I’m talking primarily about federal law – because the only trait and 
characteristic that is valued there is obedience and allegiance to the Kremlin. 
 This allegiance is attained through strong-arm methods because, unfortunately, 
there are no other ways of persuasion available to our law enforcement.

In their actions, law enforcement is akin to a criminal gang.  They kidnap 
people; sometimes people vanish without a trace.  Sometimes, they would take 
justice in their own hands and would put to death somebody without a verdict.  
There is a widely reported use of torture in interrogation and during the 
investigative process.  There are also charges that sometimes were invented or 
trumped up.

And even though sometimes these abuses are revealed through the judicial 
procedure, the sentences and verdicts are often unjustified and harsh.  And I 
will elaborate a little bit more on the techniques that are used.  It is quite 
understandable why this type of behavior causes some resistance.  Sometimes, 
this resistance becomes an armed resistance; people are not able to express 
their opposing views and political opposition and cannot use legitimate means 
of expressing this opinion or dissent.  

In all of the provinces, but particularly in Chechnya, in Ingush Republic and 
Dagestan, we have armed, underground resistance.  So far, it’s a big question 
for me how well it is organized.  But what’s obvious for me is that initially, 
there were small groups that were acting independently from each other, but 
steadily, they are getting more and more organized in a uniform structure, 
finding the same underlying ideology.  The government tries to persuade us that 
members of this underground movement are those fighters and insurgents who came 
to these areas after the defeat of – the war in Chechnya. 

But this is not true, based on the fact that those who get captured or killed 
in the firefights appear to be local villagers and not visitors from outside of 
those provinces.  It’s understandable that this type of underground movement 
would need some sort of underlying ideology, and now, Islam increasingly 
becomes that underlying ideology.  And it’s not clear what comes first is that 
the overall campaign by Russian government against Islam was caused by these 
Islamic resistance or underground movement, or the outright assault on Islam by 
the government caused this type of Islamic resistance.  It’s not quite clear 
for me.  But I know one thing: that these are interrelated processes.  

What is evident is that not just in the North Caucasus, but throughout Russia, 
there are a number of trials going on and a number of trials that already were 
concluded where people standing trials are accused of not just following or 
adhering to Islam, but following or professing the wrong kind of Islam.  This 
contributes to the further spread of Islam, its radicalization and 
transformation of Islam as a form of a protest.  At the same time, the ruling 
cliques at the helm of each of these ethnic provinces would try to claim Islam 
as their own.  So they would profess the correct, or the right kind of Islam 
and all the other kinds would be considered wrong.  

This causes an internal strife – a conflict between various denominations 
within Islam.  It is accepted, or it is common, to refer to that form of wrong 
Islam as “Wahhabi Islam,” regardless of the religious philosophy of each of 
these Islamic movements.  And because of this fear that has its hold on Moscow 
and because of the views of Wahhabi Islam by the majority of Russian populace 
and the work of mass media, there is pretty much an equals sign between Wahhabi 
Islam and terrorism and fundamental radicalism.  This is, overall, 
characteristics that are common for all of the North Caucasus provinces.

At the same time, there are certain distinct characteristics in each of them.  
There’s a totalitarian rule in Chechnya where the government pretty much has a 
monopoly on lawless acts.  And so-called “Chechen stability” entirely rests on 
this premise.  Ingush Republic is another, entirely different ethnic province 
where, starting in 2002 after President Zyazikov became the head of the 
province, this formerly tranquil and stable ethnic province turned to be a 
hotbed for various fighting factions.  And in Kabardino-Balkariya, where all 
the resistance and opposition movement was suppressed, right now there’s a 
trial going on there.  There are basically 59 people who were scapegoated – 
they were yanked out of the crowd that was storming the presidential palace in 
Kabardino-Balkariya.  

But the largest and the most complex province is the Republic of Dagestan.  And 
their ministry of internal affairs – their entire law enforcement establishment 
– behaves and acts, and in effect, it transformed itself into a criminal gang.  
They commit murders on a daily basis.  On June 5th, the minister of the 
internal affairs himself was assassinated.  And we also need to give some 
historical background.  There is an inter-ethnic conflict.  And the seeds of 
this conflict were planted during the great movement of people that was 
inspired by Stalin.  

Chechens, who were one of the largest minorities in Dagestan were, during 
Stalin’s time, deported from the valley, and Avars – another ethnic group – was 
resettled on that territory.  They were brought in from up high in the 
mountains.  And now Chechens are repatriating to that area and they demand that 
this land would be cleared of the Avars.  But the Avars have no place to go, 
because back in the mountains there is no infrastructure and a modern person 
cannot survive up there anymore.  The civil society there is very weak.  

There is only one nongovernmental organization there that is dealing with the 
issue of human rights.  They are fighting the trend of kidnapping people in 
Dagestan and it’s called the Mothers of Dagestan Against Kidnapping.  I’m sorry 
– and the name of the organization is the Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights. 
 The organization was formed in 2007.  It was the peak of a wave of kidnappings 
in Dagestan at the time; pretty much all these mothers lost their children in 
these kidnappings.  And this organization is persecuted by the government 
officials.  And it is still in business only because a lot of other 
nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups are supporting and helping it 
out. 

The only way to defeat trumped-up charges and fabricated charges in criminal 
cases is through the jury trials.  I would say that almost 100 percent of 
people who were kidnapped by law enforcement agencies and then interrogated and 
tortured were acquitted later by jury.  And now, they abolished the jury trials 
for the defendants that are charged with these specific crimes and violations.  
So we lost all hope for fair and impartial trials.  Thank you for your 
attention.  

MR. PARKER:  Thank you, Svetlana.  Before moving on to Professor Malashenko, 
I’d just like to take a moment and recognize Congressman Joseph Pitts of 
Pennsylvania, who has joined us.

REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPH PITTS (D-PA):  Thank you, I don’t have any statement.  I 
came to listen and learn.  I want to thank the witnesses for their briefing 
today.  Thank you.

MR. PARKER:  Thank you, Congressman.  Professor Malashenko?

ALEXEI MALASHENKO:  Okay, well, I’ll try to say a couple of words in English.  
I hope you will understand me.  I don’t want to repeat what my colleague, 
Gannushkina, has already told, so a little bit – some remarks about the general 
situation in the Northern Caucasus and, in general, in the Caucasus.

I don’t want to go into details, because my second colleague, Milashina Elena, 
will tell you more mainly about Dagestan.  So as I told, I’ll try to make some 
generalizations.  First, what is the Northern Caucasus?  To my opinion, it is a 
certain, semi – almost totally, a traditional society.  We have to pay 
attention to this point.  A modernization under the Soviet regime was 
successful.  So, yes, we have to recognize it.  But, anyway, it didn’t reach – 
it didn’t accomplish all of the targets.  So it wasn’t finished, it wasn’t 
finished.

In the Soviet regime, some communists – they weren’t able to remake, totally, 
Caucasian society.  Maybe that’s because of lack of time; maybe it’s because of 
Soviet system.  But anyway, the society in the Northern Caucasus is 
semi-traditional.  Next, point number two.  Now, the main process in the area – 
in particular in Dagestan, in Chechnya, in Ingushetia – the Eastern republics 
of the area – is so-called de-modernization or archaization.  Well, it’s up to 
you for what kind of notion to choose.  But no modern sector of economy 
anywhere.  

For instance, you ask a specialist in economy, what about economic situation in 
Ingushetia or in Chechnya?  The answer will be no economy.  The lack of 
education system – of course, you may find in Ingushetia, in Dagestan, 
everywhere, in Chechnya, a lot of schools and institutions and some institutes 
– mostly Islamic.  But the level of education – the level of modern education – 
is extremely low, extremely low.  It needs, of course, a special explanation, 
but believe me, it is so. 

Next problem – also mentioned – Islamization.  Well, I could call it the second 
wave of Islamization.  What does that mean?  The first wave took place in ’90s, 
just at the end of perestroika and the 10 years after the collapse of the 
Soviet Union.  That was quite normal.  Why?  Because it was in reaction against 
Soviet ideology – against Soviet official atheism.  So all kinds of Islamic 
trends, movements, ideas emerged in the Northern Caucasus, including Sufi Islam 
– by the way, prohibited by communists – Wahhabi Islam, fundamentalist Islam – 
well, it makes no difference.  Anyway, that was an Islamic rebirth or 
renaissance.  

What we have now about mentioned second wave – it means that Islam is becoming 
more and more a political factor, social factor and a factor of regulation of 
relations inside societies – inside Chechnya, inside Dagestan, a little bit, 
some less, in Ingushetia. but anyway, it’s a global trend for the area.  I have 
nothing against Islam, anyway; that’s normal.  But when more and more Islam, as 
well as the Caucasian traditions, so-called at that, becoming the main pillars 
of behavior in the societies – after the communism, after an aborted 
modernization – I think it’s a problem.  Because the Northern Caucasus – even 
Dagestan, even Chechnya – it’s not Saudi Arabia.  It’s a step back and not 
forward.  I repeat, I have nothing against Islam.  

Well, of course, there is Islamic opposition.  It was mentioned, Islam is used 
as a tool by secular administration.  It’s funny – after the collapse of the 
Soviet Union, there is a certain Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, who is a 
secular president recognized – or said that he recognized – that Chechnya is a 
part of Russia and so on, but at the same time, he pretends to be a spiritual 
leader.  It’s Islamic tradition.  

Of course, he doesn’t want to become a mullah or imam, but who knows what we’ll 
have in the future because it’s not a problem of Caucasus.  But in Tajikistan, 
president of Tajikistan, a very respected Emomalii Rahmonov – former member of 
Communist Party – he pretends to become an imam – a religious leader.  So it’s 
a trend.  It’s a tendency that covers not only Caucasus but, in general, the 
post-Soviet space.  It’s funny, but it’s so. 

Well, once again, I repeat that Svetlana mentioned the problem that federal law 
doesn’t work in Chechnya, in Dagestan – well, practically everywhere.  This is 
a principle of relations between clans, between families, between groups of 
interest which dominate.  And this is, I would say, a political basement, or 
bed-ground, of the relations between locals.  What are the relations between 
federal center in Northern Caucasus?  

If federal law doesn’t work in Northern Caucasus – and, by the way, at the same 
time it doesn’t practically work in Russia, itself; to justify my opinion, I 
can mention the case of Khodorkovsky and I think it’s enough – and from that 
point of view, some presidents in Northern Caucasus try to imitate, in 
Caucasian style, what Putin is doing, or Medvedev, or whom – I don’t know, 
maybe both. 

Well, so, what is the main principle of the relations between Moscow and the 
rest?  Well, if you grant, as in Moscow, stability, you may do, in your 
republics, everything you want – everything you want.  So it means that you are 
responsible for Moscow only as far as the stability is concerned.  And then you 
may use Islam, Adat, Shariah – do all that.

This is a principle that I told before – but it seems like this principle 
failed, or begins to fail.  I don’t know about future; I don’t want to predict 
anything.  But I cannot imagine how it can be continued because, let’s imagine 
that some of you are presidents of the republics of Northern Caucasus, and you 
are dealing all the time with a weak center – weak, federal center.  So Ramzan 
– he constructs, he builds his relations with Moscow on this idea.  

Well, I am responsible here.  I am very strong!  So I can do here everything, 
and if you are against, well, you may choose someone else.  And I don’t know 
what is the option of Moscow if, for instance, Ramzan Kadyrov, disappears from 
political scene or from the earth.  It will create a lot of problems for 
everybody, believe me. 

Anyway, we talked about special relations between federal center and local 
elites.  We mentioned the problem of absence of law.  We mentioned a lot of 
times, Islam, Islamization, the second wave, next wave, and so on.  What it 
means, in general?  Sometimes I hear about separatism – about renaissance of 
separatism in Dagestan, in Chechnya.  I don’t believe.  They will stay in the 
frames of Russian federation, because nobody needs – in Europe; I don’t know 
about the United States – but nobody needs a totally independent Chechnya.  As 
well as, nobody needs completely independent semi-Wahhabi, semi-Islamist, 
semi-traditional Dagestan.  So what to do with it – with them? 

So they will stay.  All of them will stay in the frames in the boundaries of 
Russian federation.  But from the point of culture, from the point of your 
mentality, from the point of the organization of their societies, they are 
flouting from federal center.  They are driving from Russia.  Well, it’s 
different societies in Siberia and in Dagestan.  And by the way, in Siberia, 
nobody wants to talk about Dagestani problem – that’s your problems; that’s 
problem of Moscow, of Caucasus, and it’s not a problem of Siberia – of Urals, 
and so on.  

So the domestic abroad – or inner-abroad – is emerging on the territory of 
Russian Federation.  This is a problem sometimes understandable for scholars, 
but practically not understandable for (tandem ?).  I beg your pardon.  So what 
about the future?  As usual, we are asked, what do you think will happen in a 
year?  I don’t know.  

It depends on a lot of things.  In particular, getting to my opinion, it 
depends on how the crisis – economic crisis – will develop.  If it’s bad, we’ll 
have some – I don’t know – not the Grand Revolution, of course, but some riots 
in Dagestan and Chechnya because of lack of money, because of unemployment, 
standard of living, and so on.  I cannot admit it; it is quite possible. 

What the Kremlin proposed to avoid such evolution?  As usual, to pay local 
elites, to send money from federal budget, and so on.  They don’t think of the 
possibility of modernization.  Even more, if suddenly – I can’t believe it, I 
can admit it – but anyway, if they put forward some idea of modernization of 
Northern Caucasus, I think it will be senseless because the time is missed.

And to finish, it’s a Russian problem, I mean – the Northern Caucasus – and so 
on.  But don’t forget that this is in Muslim territory.  It is part of the 
Muslim world.  Nowadays, of course everybody, even very – some lazy politicians 
in Moscow or here – they speak about Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine – that’s 
normal, that’s true.  But if Caucasus – if Chechnya, if Dagestan – are ignored, 
that will be a very big mistake, because, as I think, while there is not a 
Muslim space, not a Muslim solidarity or something else, there is a Muslim, I 
would say, soup.  Yes?  

And so many ties between different parties, between different groups, between 
Chechnya and Talibs, between Dagestan and also, by the way, Talibs – there are 
some people there; some in Afghanistan – between Islamic radicals in Central 
Asia – I can continue, I can continue.  So the point is, don’t forget about 
Northern Caucasus.  We shouldn’t forget about it because – (in Russian) – 
sometimes it seems to me that, after two Chechen wars, people begin to think 
that everything is okay and there is no war.  It’s a big mistake – very big 
mistake.  Look at this part of the Caucasian part of Russia.  And now I give 
the floor to Elena who will talk about some Dagestan – the incredibly difficult 
situations in this republic.  So don’t forget about Caucasus, despite Iran, 
despite the victory of Ahmadinejad.  

ELENA MILASHINA:  Hello, I’m sorry.  I will speak Russian because it’s a little 
bit of a tough subject for me.  

(Note:  Ms. Milashina’s remarks are delivered via translator.)

I will offer you my view of a reporter because as a reporter, I’m always 
wondering how the entire agenda is formed for mass media and how the situation 
is covered and expressed through the eyes or through the palette of a media 
outlet.  I actually noticed that a long time ago that in covering North 
Caucasus region, there would be always one ethnic province that will be 
dominating the news for one or another reason.

And usually, the number one topic covered on the agenda is the fight against 
Wahhabi Islam.  They would be saying something to the effect of, yes, there is 
a problem of emerging Wahhabi Islam in the particular ethnic province, but 
there is a counterterrorist operation going on to counter these forces of 
Wahhabi, radical Islam, and these forces have a final objective of separating 
this ethnic province from Russia. 

We observed this in coverage of the situation in Chechnya.  There was a lot of 
talk about Wahhabi radicalism and counterterrorism prior to Ramzan Kadyrov 
acceding to power there; as soon as he took the helm, there were reports on 
things calming down.  And the same thing happened in Ingushetia:  Just two 
years ago, also, they were talking about the dangers of Wahhabi Islam, and then 
when, two years ago, there was a transfer of power from the President – and so 
this campaign in mass media started about two years ago, but as soon as there 
was a transfer of presidential authority from President Zyazikov to President 
Yevkurov, things calmed down. 

And now I see Dagestan and a situation in this ethnic province on the top of 
the agenda and this is a characteristic sign of a power struggle going on in 
Dagestan right now because the future of the presidency is at stake.  
Therefore, we have to really separate these two issues.  One is the real 
situation in the Northern Caucasus as far as the withstanding of religious 
fundamentalism as I call it – some people or refer it or brand it as Wahhabi 
Islam – and its grip on the society there and the other issue. 

Then the second issue is clearly a political one; it’s a political struggle, a 
fight between various clans for political influence.  This fight against 
radical Islam or against Wahhabis becomes a bargaining chip.  It’s a way to 
appeal to the federal center in Moscow to demonstrate the current government 
authority in the province is very weak, not being able to resist or withstand 
and counter religious fundamentalism, so there is a need for a new leader for 
the province.  So this is a way to bring about the change and replacement of 
the political elites.  

And I would like to give you a little historical background on the current 
situation in Dagestan.  First of all, I must say that Dagestan was not 
mentioned as a hotspot until 1999, as far as terrorism and religious 
fundamentalist activities.  In August of 1999, the ideologues of so-called 
“pure Islam” of Chechen background, Basayev, and also somebody named Khattab, 
made an incursion into Dagestan – in the high mountains of Dagestan – and were 
trying to impose these religious laws on that particular area.  

The idea was to separate from Russia and, as a result of this incursion, a law 
was enacted within the ethnic province banning and prohibiting Wahhabi Islam.  
In this particular sense it is a unique region where it’s the only regional 
party to the federation in Russia that has this specific law prohibiting 
Wahhabi Islam. 

But it’s a curious thing because no legal scholar can give a definition of 
Wahhabi Islam, at least as it is put in the law.  And this confusion is 
prevalent, not just for the Russians but also for Dagestan itself.  And 
therefore somebody who is professing a different form of Islam – not the 
mainstream form of Islam – can be branded a Wahhabi and brought on trial on 
charges of a radical Wahhabi Islam, even though these people might be very far 
from trying to get that particular region separated from Russia.

And it’s been almost 10 years since this law was enacted.  In September there 
will be exactly 10 years since the law was passed.  And we can state the 
obvious that under the guise of this law there is a very serious 
interdenominational strife and conflict when followers of Islam of different 
denominations are fighting against each other.

Usually the ideologues of this fight are Sufi Muslims but they perpetuate this 
fight and they get support from the law enforcement primarily, from the local 
law enforcement community.  And the methods and techniques used by law 
enforcement agencies against so-called Wahhabi Muslims are very abusive and 
violent.  I can give you just one example.  There is a person whose name is 
Magomedshakir Magomedov.  He is a 44-year-old gentleman.

He was kidnapped on March the 2nd this year when he went to his native village 
to register his kids.  And the next day he was shown on TV, there was a machine 
gun lying next to him, and the announcer said that the person was captured as 
he was covering up the retreat of an armed gang of insurgents and he was 
shooting at the troops of the interior ministry until the very last bullet.

The relatives were able to create enough momentum and noise so eventually the 
body of this 44-year-old man was given to them.  It was done primarily through 
the efforts of this nongovernmental organization in Dagestan that Ms. 
Gannushkina referred to.  It was Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights.  So that 
organization was instrumental in helping the relatives to get the body.  

Then the Mothers of Dagestan followed the same routine that they use when the 
bodies of the diseased are transferred from the law enforcement custodies to 
their relatives.  They invited a forensic specialist and they videotaped the 
entire process of forensic analysis of the body.  

I saw the tape and it was very vivid tape that looked at the trauma to the body 
of the deceased.  I had an impression that his flesh was cut off his body while 
the person was still alive.  They drilled through his teeth and pierced his 
earlobes by hot needles.  

And, unfortunately, this is a pattern that we’ve seen, a number of these tapes. 
 These are methods and techniques that are used by law enforcement agencies 
that by stature are supposed to protect human rights and liberties and rule of 
law.

And these actions are taken with the sense of impunity because I don’t remember 
if anybody in law enforcement community was brought to justice for using 
abusive interrogation or torture techniques on those suspected in Wahhabi 
activities.  So this causes evident and obvious opposition and adverse reaction 
on behalf of the population. 

So what this fight against Wahhabi Islam in Dagestan burns down to is police 
officers torture and kill those they suspect in Wahhabi activities and, in 
turn, the relatives of the deceased take up their arms and kill those who 
perpetrated these things against their relatives.

And the last thing, there is a lot of crime in Dagestan and particularly 
alarming is the rate of contract killings, and sometimes they are also 
presented as the activities of Wahhabi Muslims.  

I am inclined to think that this latest assassination of the minister of 
internal affairs of Dagestan was a contract killing and the primary purpose of 
it was to destabilize the internal political situation Dagestan.  Thank you.  

MR. PARKER:  Thank you all for your presentations; we now have time to turn it 
over to you, the audience.  And we have a microphone over here and I would ask 
that you identify yourself and organization, if you’re representing one.  We 
have an opportunity for questions and also I recognize that there is a fair 
amount of expertise in the audience, so if you have a brief comment that you 
would like to add, please feel free to do so.  

Let me get things started off myself then here.  You know, as I listen to 
everybody’s presentation, it’s such a complex mess there in the Caucasus – I 
mean, it’s just so many different actors, so many different factions, whether – 
you have violence that seems to be coming from radical Islam, some of which 
appears to be sort of indigenous Islam, some which appears to be some foreign 
influence.  

I think here in Washington, at least our most recent experience in looking at 
this part of the world comes from the second Chechen war.  And here, 
particularly in Congress, there are so many issues that are vying for the 
attention of members of Congress and policy-makers, and certainly this is far 
down the list on those things that sort of appear in the news, particularly 
without a major war.  And even the war in Chechnya was not widely covered.

And so I think at least here, from a Washington audience’s perspective, sort of 
understanding the real differences between Dagestan and Chechnya; understanding 
just what – what does the future hold?  It seems to me from the presentations 
and from what I’ve been able to follow and read and conversations that the 
prospect of separatism isn’t very real in Dagestan probably because of the 
complex ethnic makeup.  

You have sometime like 30 major ethnic groups, and probably more, and speaking 
roughly 30 different languages that are related but not mutually intelligible, 
and sort of this Jamaat structure from the way Dagestan was settled, which 
obviously has to do with the high mountains; Dagestan really being the cradle 
of Islam in Russia – you know Derbent is the oldest city in the Russian 
Federation.  Compared to at least Chechnya’s history, Islam is much older in 
Dagestan and this structure around the Jamaat and sort of the local village 
council.  That being the case, are we looking at sort of just perpetual 
violence and instability that will – how does it spill over if it does?  What’s 
the answer? 

And is the problem, in terms of from Moscow’s perspective, is this a situation 
where it’s a lack of political will or a fear for any mid- to high-level 
official in Moscow to sort of own the problem in an area that has been nothing 
but problems.  Or is it – or does some of it stem from simply a lack of 
understanding of the region?

I sat down a couple weeks ago with Enver Kisriev, a serious expert on Dagestan 
at the Russian Academy of Sciences and had at least a two-hour conversation – 
and still don’t feel like I am grasping the source of the issue.  And I’m 
thinking that experts like Professor Kisriev, yourselves, are far and few 
between.  Is it the case that the policy-makers in Moscow simply don’t 
understand the complicated fabric of society in Dagestan to ever be able to 
impose a solution? 

I know I’m throwing out a lot of sort of comment with questions, and please 
feel free to take them and follow them where you will.  But it also seems that 
one of the issues is the abandonment of the previous system of government in 
Dagestan, which to me is sort of vaguely reminiscent of Lebanon pre-civil war, 
where you had sort of an allocation.  The Avars got so many positions in 
certain ministries, the Lezgis, the Laks, the Kumyks.

And that that – although messy – seemed to preserve the stability, and now 
where you have what looks to be sort of a federally imposed, sort of vertical 
structure that doesn’t seem to be working.  Anyway, I have a whole bunch more 
and I hope folks in the audience do, but why don’t we start with that and we’ll 
– would you like to –

MR.:  Would you let me translate?

MR. PARKER:  Oh, I’m sorry.  Yeah, please. Just one moment, the interpreter 
will translate. 

MR.:  (In Russian.)

MS. MILASHINA:  Well, the thing is, I will try to cover the issue that has to 
do with the political will.  The thing is that there was a document that was 
prepared by Dmitry Kozak who was the plenipotentiary representative of the 
Russian Federation in the southern federal district.  The memo was prepared in 
1995 and only parts of that memo – 2005 – and only parts of that memo was 
publicized.  

Well, that report was showing that the Russian government fully understands the 
complexity of issues in Dagestan in particular.  And it was clear the 
number-one priority for the Russian government in Dagestan was not Wahhabi 
Islam or separatism.  Well, the separatism is not in the future for Dagestan 
primarily because it is populated by different ethnic groups that are in 
perpetual conflict with each other.  So Russia plays a role of pacifier and the 
guarantor of stability in the region.  

But number-one priority according to Kremlin was corruption and also the clan 
and the political feud as well as scales of so-called shadow economy.  The 
shadow economy in Dagestan is very large.  And prompted by Dmitry Kozak, Mukhu 
Aliyev, his man in Dagestan and who is the president of Dagestan, instituted 
this reform of the national council of Dagestan that was initially formed with 
proportional representation from each ethnic group and that was the primary 
tool in fighting in those clan structures.  

Well, as they say, we hoped for the best, but you know the rest.  You know, 
very often when the people or the leadership in Russia is moved by the best 
intentions the results are quite contrary.  Well, and the main reason for the 
failure of the process is a single factor of laws not working – not just in 
that particular part of Russia but on the entire territory.  There are checks 
and balances, but these checks and balances are people, not laws or legal 
entities.  And because of these people, the effect was quite different from 
what was intended.  

And I would also have – saying in Russian, it burns down to there the power 
vacuum is not going to be there for a long time.  So if there is no rule of 
law, no accepted rules that people follow and play by; people invent their own 
rules, sometimes very violent and very harsh and they try to sort out their 
differences by using those other rules. 

And I believe that this can lead not just to the actual separation of Dagestan 
from Russia, but it could bring separation of Dagestan from the region of 
Northern Caucasus.  

(Note:  The following sentence not via translator.)  Not only Dagestan 
separated from Russia, but the whole North Caucasus will separated, if the 
things will go like that.  

(Note:  Continues via translator.)

MS. GANNUSHKINA:  Well, I would probably follow on what Elena just said; I 
think that the disintegration is Russia is one of the possible scenarios, to my 
profound regret.  Of course, forecasting could have taken more than just two 
hours; we could have been sitting here for months discussing possible forecasts 
and scenarios.  

So why do your law enforcement agencies act in Dagestan and Northern Caucasus 
the way they do?  Because they don’t know any other way and because they are 
allowed to.  And this boundless authority and arbitrariness and impunity is a 
trait and characteristic not just of the law enforcement in Northern Caucasus, 
but in the entire country of Russia.  The system is corrupt through and 
through.  

Of course, not everybody working in a law enforcement agency is a sadist, but 
if a sadist finds himself in a position of a law enforcement officer, he can 
fully realize himself.  I would agree that the political leadership in Dagestan 
is not willing and considering separation from Russia as an option because such 
separation would cause extreme internal and interethnic strife within the 
province. 

But this is what might be result of a nearsighted policy.  And primarily I’m 
talking about the policy that was instituted by President Putin and now is 
fully implemented – that the governors of provinces are not popularly elected 
but appointed.  It certainly didn’t help with better control over a situation 
and didn’t help to stabilize the vertical integration of government.  It 
created a situation when a chief executive in a particular area does not report 
or is not accountable to the people that live in that area.  At the same time 
he reports to Kremlin and he usually tells Kremlin what Kremlin wants to hear, 
which is a typical situation.  So nobody gives the true information.  

And one other thing, while we’re still on a forecasting mode:  Is there a 
possibility for having an outward war in Dagestan similar to what happened in 
Chechnya?  I think we can run a parallel but not with the war in Chechnya but 
with the conflict in Ossetia, in North Ossetia where there is some interethnic 
strife between Ossetians and Ingush.  Under Stalinist deportation policy, 
Ingush were deported from that area of North Ossetia and now a lot of Ingush 
repatriated there and, in addition to that, Ingush Republic is now demanding to 
return this land to be a part of Ingush Province.

I recently visited the Kazbek region of Dagestan.  I could see something 
similar to that.  I briefly mentioned it in my initial statement.  Repatriated 
Chechens claim this land as theirs.  And they complain; they say, why can’t we 
hold any government positions?  Why can’t we work in law enforcement?  Why all 
of these key positions can be given only to the Avars.

Let’s just – they say, let’s just follow the Islamic tradition.  We came back 
to our native land so you have to go back to yours.  And Avars respond to the 
fact that, well, we were brought here by force.  We were taken from up high in 
the mountains and we can’t go back; all of our settlements there are in ruins.  
We won’t be able to survive there.

And I think that, based on our experience working in this other area, we can 
introduce the same concept in Dagestan.  How can we reconcile two warring 
ethnic groups?  Yes, we can hold a round table and workshops, talk about 
tolerance.  But – (in Russian).  Yeah, but as one of the local leaders in 
Prigorodny district in Ossetia told me, the best way to solve this issue is to 
employ people, give them work so they would have something to do eight hours a 
day, so they would have a 40-minute lunch break and during that lunch break 
they would talk about work and their pay would be a living wage so they could 
have decent livelihoods.

And I believe it’s true.  Then we can separate arguments about history and 
arguments about life.  And in the center, we have the organization that deals 
with interethnic harmonization.  What do we do there?  We teach small business 
skills.  We basically teach people who come there how to be self-employed, how 
to put some food on the table.

And, of course, in addition to that, there are certain events for children, a 
number of other entertainment projects.  And we had six months of experience so 
far to see how people who were sitting as far apart from each other as they 
could now formed some joint business ventures.  So how can we help them?  We 
need to be there.  So there’s got to be some presence there so people wouldn’t 
think that they were abandoned.  

We need to bring textbooks to their schools because their schools are in 
terrible shape – no textbooks at all.  We need to assist and help these people 
to organize their livelihoods.  This would certainly solve a lot of issues.

MR. PARKER:  Perhaps we could take a few more questions all in a row and then 
turn it over to the panel.  Sir?  Thank you for your patience.

Q:  Alexei (ph) for American Russian Service.  (In Russian.)

MR. PARKER:  Could you ask the question in English and then the interpreter 
will translate?

Q:  Could you explain, in Russia media, a lot of references about foreign 
powers who has actual influence on this region as one of the sources of 
instability of Dagestan, for example.  Can you explain your own opinion about 
who has any influence on Wahhabi underground or any other clans and tribes in 
this region?  Saudi Arabia, United States, Israel, Iran.  Thanks.

MR. PARKER:  Thank you.  Before we answer, a few other questions.  Michael?

Q:  I was interested in getting your thoughts.  With Russia’s rising Muslim 
population, what implications or impacts –

MR. PARKER:  Will you please identify yourself for the record.

Q:  Oh, it’s Major Robert Horton (sp), United States Air Force.  So 
implications of Russia’s rising Muslim population from instability in the North 
Caucasus and potentially any of the repression against the Islam.

MR. PARKER:  Others?  Other questions?  Please.  Comments?

Q:  (Inaudible) – from CSIS.  My question pertains to what –

MR. PARKER:  Can you please clarify for the transcribers your name again?

Q:  Matt Procapa (sp) from CSIS, Center for Strategic and International 
Studies.  What international organizations do you think will be more effective 
to address the situation in North Caucasus and would the new leadership in the 
CSE and – (inaudible), would this new leadership be able to tackle this issue?  
Thanks.

MR. PARKER:  What new leadership in CSE?

Q:  The Kazakhstan leadership.

MR. PARKER:  The Kazakhstan chairmanship.

Q:  Yes, would be able to change the situation or somehow deal with it.  Thanks.

MR. PARKER:  Did you understand?  I think the question was, will the new – 
Kazakhstan is set to chair an organization for security cooperation starting in 
January.  The current chair is Greece.  Kazakhstan will actually be the first 
chair from the post-Soviet states.  And that will last for one year.  Please, 
three questions.

Professor, would you like to start?

MR. MALASHENKO:  Well, about impact from abroad to Dagestan.  Alexander, look, 
of course, no comparisons between what we had in ’90s.  The penetration, I 
would say, or something else, it’s a very, very weakened, not compatible with 
what we have some 10 years ago.  But, at the same time, at the same time, what 
Saudian, for instance, or people from Kuwait, indeed, they help to reconstruct 
educational systems.  And, of course, the institutions in Dagestan, their 
influence is felt, yes?  I would say.

As to the assistance to Jamaat and to Azeri, I would say, some radical 
organizations, don’t underrate it.  In 2000, the armed – the ’90s.  So the main 
roots, the main problems, it derives from local situation and not from abroad.  
And when I’m reading about a huge penetration of Arabs to Dagestan, it’s not so.

So the situation is totally different.  By the way, there are official ties 
between local elites, between governments, between presidents and their brother 
in faith, in Saudi, in Kuwait and so on.  They are running to hajj every year.  
Really they have economic ties, maybe even a personal economic ties and 
economic interest.  But, I repeat, as far as radical penetration, at the 
moment, it’s not so dangerous.

Well, about Muslims.  Maybe I didn’t understand the question about maybe 
demography or what it was.  So the population, the number of Muslims in Russia 
is unknown.  It hesitates between 15.5 to 20.  Well, I think it’s some – maybe 
around 19 or 19.5.  Why?  Because we have to take into consideration migration 
from Central Asia and from Azerbaijan.

Also it’s extremely difficult to count how many people we have coming from 
Tajikistan, from Uzbekistan.  Months ago, we had a conference in Bishkek about 
migration from Central Asia.  Well, the figures, the information, was quite 
different.  But if to summarize approximately, we have 2 millions of migration 
from Central Asia, mostly from Uzbekistan, from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.  
It’s true.

And if we add about a million-and-a-half from Azerbaijan, it’s possible.  So 
we’ll get this 19 or something around 20 millions.  It doesn’t mean that Russia 
will become a Muslim country in 10 years; that’s impossible, of course.  But 
the rate – the percentage of the population, of Muslim population of course 
will raise.  And that’s no doubt.

And from that point of view, I cannot meet that in 2050, we’ll have maybe 25, 
maybe something like that of persons of Muslim population.  But one thing I 
want to add:  There is an idea spread even by official muftis, official Muslim 
clergymen who are very loyal to Kremlin, to Moscow, they say sometimes that 
Russia is a Christian country temporarily.  And in 100 years, Russia will 
become a Muslim country.

Nowadays, of course, it sounds like a propaganda, but this idea, I think it’s 
very exciting.  (In Russian.)

Just a minute, yes, yes.  And I don’t think that in Kremlin this factor is 
taken into consideration.  I don’t think.  While there are different aspects, 
of course, which are very important, for instance, the presence of Muslim 
soldiers in Russian army, that creates some problems.  It’s not very, very 
difficult, but anyway, military men, sometimes they recognize that more and 
more it becomes an equation because young men in Muslim societies and Muslim 
communities, that’s the biggest part.  (Inaudible) – but if the Soviet Union 
didn’t collapse, approximately 32 or 33 percent of Russian military men were 
Muslims.  So that’s interesting.

MS. MILASHINA:  Just one little thing I’d like to add to it is that it’s very 
characteristic of the entire Northern Caucasus region is more than 50 percent 
of the population are younger than 30.  And there is also an abundance of labor 
in the region.  Usually there was labor migration during the Soviet Union.  
Traditionally, that’s how this issue was resolved.  But, unfortunately, because 
of the current policy in Kremlin and because in the aftermath, in the wake of 
two Chechen wars, the society becomes more and more xenophobic.

And there is a curious situation.  There are a lot of migrant workers, guest 
workers, in Russian cities that are primarily immigrants from Central Asia.  
But those who come from the Northern Caucasus usually encounter hostility on 
behalf of the local population and much more so than those coming from the 
former Soviet republics.  And it’s much harder for someone who came from 
Northern Caucasus to get employment as a migrant worker.

And we see two migratory trends.  The first one is when oil rig workers who 
were employed in Surgut or in Tumen in the northern regions of Siberia, they go 
back to Dagestan.  At the same time, ethnic Russians are leaving Dagestan.

MS. GANNUSHKINA:  (Note:  The following sentence not via translator.)  In 
Causasus, it’s common for all Caucasian regions, these tendencies.

(Note:  Continues via translator.)  Well, it’s an alarming sign because even 
though we don’t have border delineation between Northern Caucasus and Russia, 
but we already have this separation of population between Russia proper and 
Northern Caucasus.

The people living across that nondelineated border feel more like strangers.  
So we came here to the U.S. and in D.C. we’ve been asking a lot of questions 
that are not very different from questions that Russians would have for us as 
experts on the region because a lot of Russians don’t quite understand what’s 
going on in the area.

I would just like to follow up with a comment that in Tumen, that was just 
mentioned by Elena, is the region where, just recently, they held a number of 
trials where defendants were accused of practicing radical Islam: the mosques 
are closed down, people are not allowed to worship.

And the charges are often fabricated, but Quran is often used as evidence 
against these defendants.  Advocacy, human-rights advocacy organizations 
receive a lot of letters from penitentiaries and from armed forces that those 
who would like to worship are not allowed to.  And, as a contrast, a Russian 
Orthodox priest would visit inmates in prison or a penitentiary while those who 
are of a different faith, Muslims, are inmates in the same prison, would be 
berated by both the priests and followers of Christian faith and by the 
administration of the penitentiary.

In Volgograd in a large government penitentiary during Friday prayer, the 
authorities would turn on the loud speaker and would be broadcasting lewd 
rhymes during the ceremony of Friday prayer by a Muslim imam.  There were a few 
instances of hate crimes, murders committed in the Russian armed forces based 
on religious intolerance.

Well, you can only imagine what kind of sense of patriotism does this type of 
treatment instills in those of Muslim persuasion, actually return back to their 
homes.  And these are closed systems because nobody would admit that it 
happens.  And if it doesn’t happen, how can you counter or fight it?

MR. PARKER:  Thank you, Svetlana.  We have a few more minutes, if there are any 
further questions or possible comments from the audience, please.  

Q:  (Off mike.)

MR. PARKER:  Yeah, sure, it helps the transcribers.

Q:  Hi, my name is Erica Omart (ph).  I’m from the Jim Stein Foundation.  I 
have two short questions.  First, how popular is Putin in North Caucasus and in 
Dagestan in particular?  And, second, are there any indigenous newspapers or TV 
channels in North Caucasus and in Dagestan or is it mostly covered by Moscow 
channels and newspapers.  Thank you.

MR. PARKER:  Any further questions.  I would also add a couple of very 
specifics to Erica’s questions.  You asked about Putin; what about Ramzan 
Kadyrov?  What is his image and influence in the broader region and, 
particularly, in Dagestan?  Also, very quickly, what role, if any, is 
Azerbaijan and Georgia playing?  Obviously the border there is very mountainous 
and remote; I suspect it’s not much of a role.

And, lastly, of the numerous ethnic groups in Dagestan and in regions and the 
violence, the Avars, obviously a prominent group, the president the interior 
minister.  Are there two or three groups that one could cite or two or three 
regions for sort of the nexus of most of the violence or instability?  And is 
the flatland region in northern Dagestan, is that really pretty entirely 
separate?  I think that was appended to Dagestan in one of these Stalinist sort 
of re-drawing of the maps.  Is that really a region we’re not really talking 
about when we talk about all of this instability and violence?

MS. GANNUSHKINA:  I would like to pick and choose, if you allow me, because I 
am the only one in this room, probably, who saw Mr. Putin displaying very 
strong Islamophobia.  I am a member of an advisory council under the president 
of the Russian Federation and I was present at four meetings with the president.

There were two meetings when I remember Putin losing his temper, even though, 
overall, he’s a very pleasant, good-meaning person.  The first topic that 
causes some contention was Khodorkovsky.  I can tell that he takes it seriously 
and he takes it personally, very personally.  It was very unusual for a 
president.

And the second hot-button topic is Islam, about human-rights violations in 
Chechnya, about radical Islamization.  He kept telling us, you don’t 
understand.  Yes, I understand human rights, et cetera, but there is a real 
threat or clear and present danger of Islamic caliphate.

You’re saying that, yes, our law enforcement agencies and interior troops 
commit acts of violence against civilians, but see what did the civilians 
commit?  Yesterday they killed a police officer.  And here’s a particular thing 
that I found very interesting.  It was not our police officer; it was a Chechen 
police officer.  And I couldn’t help – and I asked him, Vladimir Vladimirovich, 
even though he was a Chechen police officer, he was still ours.

Well, he brushed me away saying, they are all the same; they are all Islamists, 
separatists.  Just recently they all were hiking up in the mountains with some 
machine gun.  This is a good illustration to what Elena was just saying.  The 
highest government authority doesn’t view a Chechen police officer as “one of 
ours.”  This is unsubstantiated fear, a phobia of some abstract caliphate, as 
if it’s hiding somewhere behind the – and expressed by the president of a 
country.

Now a few words about Ramzan.  I would say, for part of the young generation, 
Ramzan is certainly a role model.  He is strong.  He can do anything and he’s 
allowed to do anything.  Part of the population views him as inevitable evil or 
at least they stopped bombing us, they say.  And, of course, intellectuals just 
can’t stand him.  

I would say that Chechnya has a fairly large stratum of intelligentsia, of 
intellectuals.  And the organization conducts workshops for high school 
teachers.  And I must say, when we conduct these seminars and workshops, the 
FSB keeps an eye on us.  And usually, when we talk about Ramzan, this sentiment 
can be summarized as, I don’t believe our nation has not deserved something 
better than that.  

And there’s only one type of relationship that’s possible with Ramzan; it’s 
total subordination and flattery.  So people who have to take the offer, they 
can’t refuse to become one of his inner circle or somebody in the government 
would become his subordinates and his lackeys.  And they will have to report on 
everything they see.  They become informants, what happened to a former 
managing editor of Chechen Obshchestvo, a newspaper who is now one of the aides 
of Ramzan.

MR. PARKER:  Well, we are just about out of time here.  I’d like to thank 
everybody for coming.  In particular, I’d like to thank our expert panel here 
for traveling all the way from Russia and also would just like to point out; 
I’m sure many of you have read the bios or know of our experts here, but it 
really is an honor for us to provide this forum.  We know of the difficult 
circumstances that you work under in Russia.  A number of your names are on 
these lists of enemies of the Russian people and these extremist lists.  A 
number of your colleagues have been murdered for their work.

Elena comes to us from a newspaper that has lost four journalists in recent 
years: Mr. Domnikov, Mr. Shchekochikhin, Ms. Politkovskaya and, most recently, 
in January, Anastasia Baburova.  None of these murders have been solved.  I 
just wanted to underscore the sobering reality from where you’re coming from 
and the great difficulty that you operate in.  

It’s certainly our pleasure and honor to host you here.  Dagestan is a topic 
and the North Caucasus, in general, that we will continue to focus on.  The 
commission hopes to visit the region.  We have not been to the region in years. 
 The U.S. government has very little penetration and presence, particularly due 
to the security concerns in the region.  So, hopefully, possibly in the fall.  
And also an announcement to everybody:  You can find our events and transcripts 
on the Web site.  This event will be transcribed and, eventually, I think, 
there will be a webcast up on – you know, if you want to review.  

And next week, next Tuesday, the 23rd, we have a hearing on Russia’s human 
rights record from 10:00 to noon in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, SVC 202-203.  
And we’ll be looking at issues of Russia’ compliance with human rights 
commitments ahead of the summit in July, President Obama’s first trip to 
Moscow.  We will look at three areas: the area of religious freedom, press 
freedom and business freedom in Russia.  And that’s next week, for those who 
are interested.  And it will be posted on the Web site.  

And, for those of us who don’t get our notices and reports, there’s an 
opportunity to subscribe online:  It is csce.gov.  I’d like to thank you all 
for coming and the briefing is adjourned.

(END)