Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dagestan, Newest Party to Conflict

MAKHACHKALA, Dagestan -- A symbol of order in a region teetering on the brink of chaos, Lenin still stands on the main square of Dagestan's capital, the only pristine part of this shabby city on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Ranks of Interior Ministry police guard the doors of the government house, armed with automatic rifles, khaki flak jackets over their greatcoats.

Security has been beefed up since Chechen rebels brought their war to Dagestan, attacking an air base in the town of Kizlyar and seizing up to 3,000 hostages. Police were stopping cars with Chechen license plates from entering the city afterwards and checking everyone's documents for their nationality.

"They are scared of us," said one Chechen driver. "They have no courage, the Dagestanis," he laughed.

The Dagestani authorities say they are acting to avoid any "irritation" of ethnic unrest. Dagestan, an autonomous republic of 2 million people, is a potential melting pot with 32 different nationalities, 12 different languages and a myriad of dialects.

The predominant nationality are Avars, who are traditionally very close to the Chechens and fought alongside them against Russia in the last century.

The bloody debacle of the hostage crisis in the Avar village of Pervomaiskoye has raised the specter of war again spreading across the Northern Caucasus.

"It has already spread into Dagestan," said Charles Blandy, an analyst at the Conflict Studies Research Center at Sandhurst Military Academy in England. "The question is whether it will bring the Avars against the Chechens and against the Chechen-Akhin who are related to the Chechens in Chechnya.

"It may turn the Avars against the Russian government. It may be another step into shaking the central authority in Dagestan," he said.

Magomed Ali Magomedov, head of the republic, succeeded in keeping a lid on the republic's emotions during the last few weeks. He himself went in to negotiate with the Chechen rebels, winning the release of the bulk of 2,000 hostages within 24 hours. He later blamed the disastrous turn of events at Pervomaiskoye on Russia's intervention. In a long statement to the Dagestani people that appeared in the official paper Dagestanskaya Pravda on Saturday, he praised Dagestan's official organs and social organizations for "working to avoid disorganization, irritation, demonstrations and preventing our people from a wrong and unjustified step."

He went on to congratulate Dagestanis for showing no "anti-Russian tendency," which he warned could be harmful for Dagestan. "Such a tendency does not exist in Dagestan," he said.

The Dagestani police and security services have already been zealous in obstructing journalists covering the war in Chechnya at the fighting at Pervomaiskoye. Police threatened to shoot journalists who did not pull out of the neighboring village of Sovietskoye. Others set a vicious police dog on journalists and aid workers at a nearby checkpoint.

"One of the pillars of the Russian foundation in the Caucasus has been that the power structures in Dagestan remained the same," Blandy said.

But the roar of Grad and Huragan missiles fired nightly from Russian bases in Dagestan into Chechnya, make the population, Avars, Chechens and Dargins alike, deeply unhappy.

"The extreme brutality during the torching of Grozny a year ago and the display of Pervomaiskoye can only weaken regard for the Russians and strengthen the hopes and aspirations [of Dagestan] becoming free and independent of Moscow," Blandy said.

?A prominent opponent of Chechnya's separatist leader was kidnapped Friday on the way home from a visit to a rebel-held town, The Associated Press reported.

Reports said Lecha Saligov, head of the Chechen government's publishing agency, was kidnapped en route to Achkhoi-Martan, 40 kilometers southwest of Grozny. There was no word on who carried out the kidnapping or on the whereabouts of Saligov, a prominent opponent of Dzhokhar Dudayev.