Dealing with Dagestan, Daily Brief June 25, 2024

Daily Brief, June 25, 2024.


Attacks by armed militants in Dagestan on Sunday killed at least 19 people and left many wondering both why and what’s next.

The gunmen – apparently supporters of Islamic State (ISIS) – hit the two largest cities in this region of Russia’s North Caucasus. In Derbent, they slit the throat of a 66-year-old Russian Orthodox priest and set fire to a church. They also torched a synagogue. In Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, they attacked a church and a police checkpoint near a synagogue.

When the smoked cleared, at least 15 law enforcement personnel and four local residents lay dead, dozens were wounded, and at least two questions immediately sprung to people’s minds.

First, how could this have happened yet again? How could the authorities have apparently been caught by surprise and fail to prevent this coordinated attack, despite other recent incidents of mass violence?

November witnessed antisemitic mob attacks in Dagestan and other regions of the North Caucasus. These included the takeover of the Makhachkala airport by a mob hunting for Israeli passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv; an attack on a hotel after false rumors it was housing “Israeli refugees”; and an arson attack on a Jewish community center under construction.

Then, in March, there was the horrific attack on a concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, claimed by ISIS, in which militants killed at least 140 people.

Attacks keep happening, and people keep getting killed. Russia’s security apparatus seems to have taken its eye off the ball at the very least. Many experts suggest the ongoing failure to address domestic threats is linked to security services spending too much of their time and resources on Russia’s atrocity-filled invasion of Ukraine.

The second question is, what are the authorities going to do now? If history is any guide, things don’t look good.

Russia has been facing militant Islamist insurgencies in Dagestan on and off for more than two decades. Security services have responded with abuses of their own: abductions, forced displacement of local residents, and torture.

After the concert hall massacre in March, Russian authorities not only tortured at least two suspects, they shared recordings of it. It was as if they were taking pride in torture.

As my expert colleague Tanya Lokshina has detailed, security services also followed up with abusive raids against Central Asian migrants, who have furthermore been targets of xenophobic violence in public.

In the wake of the latest militant attacks in Dagestan on Sunday, we can hope Russia’s authorities will have learned by now that illegal abuses haven’t worked to stem militancy – that preventing attacks beforehand would be more effective than torturing people afterwards.

Hope dies last.