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North Caucasus Turmoil Intensifies on Europe’s Doorstep

North Caucasus Turmoil Intensifies on Europe’s Doorstep

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This policy brief argues for paying more attention to conflict in the North Caucasus region.
This policy brief argues for paying more attention to conflict in the North Caucasus region.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Mar 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
March 2012
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E info@gmfus.org
There are threecompelling reasons why the
ongoing conict in the North
Caucasus merits more attention.
First, the North Caucasus
insurgency is without doubt oneof the world’s most ruthlessly
efcient and effective jihadigroups. Second, the North
Caucasus militancy is arguably asgreat a threat to political stabilityin Russia as the emerging protests against President-electVladimir Putin. And third, thethreat posed by the insurgencydoes not stop at Russia’sborders.
North Caucasus Turmoil Intensifes on
Europe’s Doorstep
by Aslan Doukaev 
A emale suicide bomber killed hersel and at least ve police ocers onMarch 6, when she blew hersel upat a police checkpoint in a village inDaghestan. She acted in apparentrevenge or the death o her husbandlast month at the hands o security orces. Tis has become an all tooamiliar story, not just in Daghestan,but across the North Caucasus, whereover the past decade, the initially predominantly Chechen military resistance to Russia has morphed intoa militant and highly organized Islamicinsurgency.In Chechnya itsel, erce ghting lastmonth along the border with Dagh-estan le 17 government troops deadand 24 wounded, state news agen-cies quoted Interior Minister RashidNurgaliyev as telling Russian Presi-dent Dmitry Medvedev. Accordingto the same source, the insurgentslost only seven people in the clashes,which lasted or over a week. It was ahighly unusual admission rom oneo Russia’s top security ocials, whoare not generally prone to disclose thereal extent o their ailures, preerringinstead to dress them up in euphe-mism and understatement.One possible explanation or thissurprising candidness is the act thatin the age o mobile telephones itis extremely dicult, i not totally impossible, to keep a lid on suchevents. On February 15, an insurgentcommander succeeded in callingRadio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s(RFE/RL) North Caucasus Serviceto report — against a background o heavy gunre — that on that day alonethe insurgents had killed 4 police o-cers and wounded at least 13.Another explanation is that develop-ments in the North Caucasus, aermore than 17 years o conict, nolonger generate serious interest in theoutside world. Te events describedabove received only scant coverage inWestern media.Tere are, however, three compellingreasons why the ongoing conict inthe North Caucasus merits more atten-tion.First, the North Caucasus insurgency is without doubt one o the world’smost ruthlessly ecient and efective jihadi groups. With a total orce o no more than 1,000 — 1,500 ghters,it killed an average o two peopleper day last year and perpetrated aterrorist attack on average every otherweek, including the suicide bombingat Moscow’s Domodedovo airport inJanuary 2011 that killed 40 people.Te insurgency is headed by DokuUmarov, whom the U.S. State Depart-
Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
o the world’s main sporting events: it would irrevocably damage Putins personalized ruling system, which putssecurity and stability beore democracy and human rights.And third, the threat posed by the insurgency does notstop at Russia’s borders. Te leaders o the Emirate warnthat their planned Pan-Caucasus Islamic state will extendbeyond the territory o the present Russian Federation.Georgia is their stated rst target. Umarov has already appointed the Emir o Georgia. But Azerbaijan too — theconduit or vital oil and gas export pipelines — is vulner-able. Azerbaijani ghters are a common sight in rebelgroups in Chechnya and Daghestan.Umarov has also threatened the West. Te original videostatement on the declaration o the Caucasus Emirate,which RFE/RLs North Caucasus Service managed to obtainbeore it was made public, contained threats to attack theUnited States, the U.K., and Israel in retaliation or theirreluctance to condemn or challenge Russia’s policies inChechnya. Aer the service broadcast parts o declara-tion, Umarov publicly retracted that threat. It is not clear,however, whether that was a genuine change o heart ora tactical move intended to placate the critics. Umarov’ssubsequent rhetoric suggests the latter.For years, Russia employed a two-pronged strategy in theNorth Caucasus. It used brute orce — oen indiscrimi-nately and whole-heartedly — and money, mostly hal-heartedly and selectively. Te biggest recipients o Russianunds are loyal local amilies and clans, which, like theKadyrov clan in Chechnya, are granted carte blanche toconduct counterinsurgency operations, usually accom-panied by campaigns o kidnapping, torture, and murderagainst suspected insurgents and critics, as long as the efort
The leaders of the Emirate warnthat their planned Pan-CaucasusIslamic state will extend beyondthe territory of the present RussianFederation.
ment included on the list o most-wanted terrorists in July 2010, and ofering $5 million or inormation leading tohis capture. In 2007, Umarov had announced the establish-ment o a Caucasus Emirate whose borders encompass theRussian republics o Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia,North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cher-kessia, and the ederal region o Stavropol.Whether, as some observers believe,
Umarov receivesunding rom Al-Qaeda, and that Al-Qaeda has played akey role in “proselytizing jihadism” to the mujahidin inChechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus, has not beendenitively proved. Te act remains, however, that in hisregular video addresses, Umarov has repeatedly expressedsupport or Muslims worldwide engaged in jihad, andofered them what help and advice he can give. Chechenghters already occupy prominent positions within somealiban groups.
Tey also appear to inspire emerging jihadi groups in parts o Central Asia and Russia’s Volgaregion. aliban commanders, acknowledging that many o their ghters either ought or trained in Chechnya,
seek tocoordinate their activities with those o the North Caucasusinsurgency.Second, the North Caucasus militancy is arguably as greata threat to political stability in Russia — and in the longerterm, to the survival o the Russian Federation — as theemerging protests against President-elect Vladimir Putin. Itwas, aer all, the then-largely ignored ghting that eruptedin 1988 in Azerbaijan’s disputed Nagorno-Karabakh regionthat set in motion the chain o events culminating in thecollapse o the Soviet Union three years later.Soon aer the Black Sea resort town o Sochi won its bidto host the 2014 Olympic Games, the Daghestani militants vowed to “attack any o the so-called ‘Olympic partici-pants’ who represent the country’s war against Muslims.”Te North Caucasus militants have already shown they are capable o staging attacks in ar-away Moscow. Surely,targeting Sochi, which is only 600 kilometers rom Grozny,cannot be logistically more challenging than targeting thenation’s capital. Such an attack would not just disrupt one

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