Putins jernneve fremprovoserer ekstremisme og jihad i Kaukasus. Tsjetsjenia var bare et forspill. Nå står flere republikker for tur.

Guardians Nick Paton-Walsh reiste rundt i fem republikker og sjekket stemningen før sist søndags valg i Tsjetsjenia.

Last Sunday, Russia attempted to complete the political solution it has imposed on the republic by holding parliamentary elections, a final bid to convince the outside world that the conflict is ebbing rather than intensifying. Ahead of the vote, I travelled from Nalchik in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria through five other republics to see how and why Islamic radicalism began to captivate the north Caucasus.

Moscow’s bid to master the predominantly Muslim Caucasus is a centuries-old and turbulent enterprise, born in tsarist times of an imperial need to «civilise» a neighbouring people. But since the fall of the proudly secular Soviet Union, corrupt local government and intense poverty have been the catalyst of an Islamic revival in the north Caucasus.

The Kremlin has often played down social decline in this tinderbox region. But in June this year, Putin’s envoy to the north Caucasus, Dmitri Kozak, wrote a report for his boss that said intense local corruption, unemployment and police abuses were bolstering the role «extremist groups» and «Sharia enclaves» were playing in the region. Poverty hasn’t helped; over the past three years, the United Nations Development Programme in Moscow has noted, living standards have risen across Russia but re2_kommentared the same in the north Caucasus. In this climate, anger has grown, and the response from Moscow has been brutal, the practical application of Putin’s famous promise to «kill the terrorists in the outhouse». All of which has made the Islamist alternative appear more attractive.

Paton-Walsh har tidligere besøkt Naltsjik i Kabardino-Balkaria, hvor 200 unge menn gikk til angrep på politi og sikkerhetsstyrker 12. oktober. 99 av de militante ble drept, 33 politi.

Nå har undertrykkelsen satt inn. Men hjelper det?

A lockdown now chokes Nalchik. Thousands of Russian troops, drafted in from across Russia’s south, stand on street corners and sleep in school gyms, where six-year-olds now go to school next to men with AK47s. One senior Russian ministry of interior officer says: «Chechnya is now in the 10th stage [of insurgency]. They are getting cleverer and cleverer. But this place is in stage one. We have to take hardcore measures; it will die down and we can go home.»

There are now four 2_kommentar groupings among the pro-Russian Chechens, some more orderly than others. On June 4, a unit from one of the battalions carried out an operation on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Just after 4pm, 300 masked troops burst into the village of Borozdinovskaya and, in an uncomfortable echo of the Beslan massacre, herded its men into the school, where they were held, say witnesses, for nine hours. Eleven men were led away and have not been heard of since.

It’s a familiar equation, one that Zerem, a senior commander in another unit, says makes the militants even more popular. «All the time we are bickering among ourselves, they get stronger and stronger,» he says, pointing to a region on a map of Chechnya on the wall of his Grozny office. With his finger he draws an oval around four villages in the south: the volatile Vedeno and Nozhai-Yurt regions. In this region, Zerem says, the militant leader Doha Umarov commands 200 men out of a scattered force of about 3,000 Islamic militants.

Zerem says this year eight men have left his home village to join the Islamists. «The militants are agitating very strongly right now. They have a recruiter in every village. The government is paying no attention to the youth at the moment, and if someone is beaten, let’s say by federal troops, he will join the militants to take revenge.»

Paton-Walsh besøker landsbyen Ghimri i Dagestan, som har erklært seg sharia-forpliktet.

Habib expresses concern that the federal authorities might move to reassert secular control over the village. «Who wants their home destroyed?» he asks. He is right to be concerned. The town of Karamakhi , a mucky cabbage plantation a few hours drive from Ghimri, renounced Russian rule and declared itself under sharia law in 1998. By September the next year, Putin’s military had removed many of the roofs from the village’s houses, leaving its 5,000 residents to live among the ruins. According to Ibadullah Mukayev, now the head of the local administration, at least 50 residents were killed. «People saw how bad it was,» says Mukayev, «what happened to their homes. If you go against Russia, where do you go?»

«They picked me up off the street, and knew who I was. They beat me with telephone cables, batons. They put a gas mask on my head and beat my chest. I weighed 70 kilograms when I went in, and 47 when I came out two months later.» He lists other torture methods he has heard of: objects violently inserted into the anus, women and children raped in front of male relatives. The Dagestani police deny all allegations of torture.

First two bitter wars in Chechnya. Then a savage massacre in Beslan.

Now Russia’s nightmare is coming true: an explosion of Islamic militancy across an entire region

Se også besøket i Naltsjik 14. oktober:

Hardline policy fails to halt extremism