In the Russian North Caucasus history repeats itself again and again, always as tragedy. Russia's leaders seem incapable of grasping the subtle complexities of politics in Dagestan and Chechnya, despite over two centuries of contact with the region. Moscow's latest military actions promise to make a bad situation even worse. The most recent round of violent conflict in the North Caucasus broke out in August 1999 when Russian military forces responded to attacks from across the Chechen border into Dagestan. The invasion was led by the Chechen military leader Shamil Basaev and Habib Abdel Rahman Khatab, a Saudi Arabian citizen married to a Dagestani woman.
This was not the only recent military action involving Chechens in Dagestan. In May 1997 a force of Dagestani fighters associated with the radical Islamic sect of "Wahhabites" took control of several villages, including the one where Khatab's wife was born. In December 1997 a group of Chechen guerrillas joined the Wahhabite force to attack a Russian armored brigade near Buinask. The residents of the villages "liberated" by the Wahhabites and Chechens declared their independence from Dagestan and established another "little Chechnya" within the Russian Federation. The August incursion looked like another step on the path to creating a united Chechen-Dagestani Muslim state, the explicit goal of Basaev and his allies. […]