Will Ukraine be blamed for the latest Russian terror attack?

The Bell

A shock attack in Russia’s southern Dagestan region, the largest there in many years, killed at least 15 police officers. It is the third terrorist attack carried out by Islamist groups in Russia this year, and officials have already tried to draw some connections to Ukraine, despite an obvious lack of evidence.

  • On Sunday, terrorists hit Makhachkala and Derbent, two of Dagestan’s biggest cities, in a simultaneous attack on religious sites and security checkpoints (1, 2). Armed militants attacked two orthodox churches, two synagogues and police officers, with the shoot-outs lasting several hours in both cities. At least 20 people were killed in the attacks, 15 of them police. Among the civilian casualties was Archpriest Nikolai Kotelnikov, rector of an orthodox church in Derbent, who was the target of a knife and gun attack. More than two dozen were also injured and the synagogue in Derbent was severely burned in an arson attack with Molotov cocktails.
  • The attacks on the synagogues could have garnered sympathy among the local population, where anti-Jewish sentiment is running high amid the war in Gaza. In October, several hundred men stormed the airportin Makhachkala after reports that a plane had landed bringing refugees from Israel.
  • During the fighting on Sunday, police killed five militants. Contrary to stereotypes of the kind of people who carry out such attacks, they were not from poor, illiterate backgrounds. Three of them were sons and nephews of Magomed Omarov, a member of the ruling United Russia member and head of one of Dagestan’s districts. He has since been expelled from the party. Another attacker was the son of a businessman and contractor for a local energy company. 
  • On Russian Islamist Telegram channels, the attackers were linked to the Caucasian branch of the “Islamic State — Khorasan” organization, which claimed responsibility for the March attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue in Moscow, where more than 140 people were killed. Sunday’s attack on Dagestan is already the third Islamist terror incident this year after the massacre in Moscow and the taking of hostages at a detention center in Rostov-on-Don earlier this month.
  • So far the Kremlin has offered no significant reaction to the Dagestan attack, saying only that it did not expect a new wave of violence would grip the region. There are signs that the Russian authorities could again look for evidence of a Ukrainian or NATO link, as they did in the aftermath of the Crocus City Hall massacre. Dagestan’s leader Sergei Melikov has already linked the attacks with the “special military operation” and second-tier officials are talking about suspicious parallels between a Sunday morning Ukrainian missile strike on Crimea that killed four beach-goers and the events in Dagestan later that evening.

Why the world should care

Vladimir Putin bet he could solve the problem of terrorism in the North Caucasus with billions of dollars worth of subsidies. In reality, much of the money was appropriated by corrupt local elites or, as in the case of Chechnya, handed to the feudal-like court of the ruling Kadyrov family. Predictably, this didn’t solve the problem, but merely kicked it down the road. And now the Caucasus suffers from both terrorism and corruption.


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