Saturday, January 30, 2010

Unrest in former Soviet republic of Dagestan spins out of control

No wonder the Russians are more interested in getting along with the West nowadays, certainly a lot more than in the days of the Soviet Union. Word comes from Dagestan that accelerating violence in the Caspian Sea republic could force Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to get further involved by appointing a strong leader to quell growing clan warfare and Islamic insurgent activity, like his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, did after years of conflict in nearby Chechnaya. Last week in Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital, for example, police were forced to close streets to protect against suicide bombers in districts that lost power and water, according to the New York Times. The vice speaker of Dagestan's parliament narrowly escaped assassination last week when a passing car opened fire with automatic weapons, the Times said. “In Dagestan, the problem is that there is a loss of control that is moving toward violence of another kind, which is stronger and stronger, and spiced with Islamic fundamentalism," said Pavel Baev, a senior researcher at the Oslo-based International Peace Research Institute, told the Times. “There is no other kind of order. Only the fundamentalists can present themselves as honest men.” Worse, still, perhaps, is the general cynicism of a population frustrated by corruption and their government's seeming inability to control the country, a part of the Russian Federation since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Times said. Armored vehicles and bodyguards have become commonplace on the streets as a result of the rising violence. "People have no hope in law enforcement or in other protection or in justice anymore, said Magomed-Rasul Omarov, the press secretary for Dagestan's top Muslim religious leader told the Times. “If one case was brought to justice, you could say there was some hope.” Instead of becoming an economic powerhouse with its abundant natural resources and miles of Caspian Sea coastline, Dagestan has become economically dependent on money from Moscow. "You can't develop tourism when you have a murder every day," said Said Amirov, the mayor of Makhachkala, who is confined to a wheelchair after an assassination attempt. Making matters worse, the failure of civil society is causing more and more young people to turn to Islamic extremism, the Times said.

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