Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Six people were killed and 17 injured when militants attacked the Chechen parliament last week.
IWPR Caucasus editor Oliver Bullough looks at the implications of this new violence for the Russian republic and the wider region.
What’s the significance of this attack?
The attack is a clear sign that Russia’s regular claims that the war in Chechnya has ended are over-optimistic. Russia has been fighting to block Chechens’ attempt to win independence since 1994 - and claiming victory since early 2000. But the guerrillas regularly remind Moscow that they have not gone away. Attacking a heavily-defended building in the centre of the capital during daylight is an ambitious logistical achievement; and that in itself suggests that the armed resistance movement in Chechnya is confident as well as being well-armed, well-manned and well-motivated.
This attack follows a similar raid in August on Tsentoroi, the home village of Moscow-backed Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. Neither was successful in military terms, but both were important propaganda victories showing the reach and ambition of his opponents. These attacks may indicate a switch in emphasis to targeting government and military sites, rather than assaults on civilians such as the Moscow bombings last March in which some 40 people were killed.
Kadyrov has been accused of widespread abuse of human rights in his quest to pacify Chechnya. Does this attack suggest that he has failed to defeat the insurgency?
A couple of years ago, Chechnya was considerably more stable than it is now, but Kadyrov may have over-reached himself. Feeling that he had crushed the armed resistance, he turned on rivals in the pro-Moscow camp, successfully sidelining the powerful Yamadayev brothers, two of whom have since been killed. The Yamadayevs led hundreds of armed men of their own, and not all of those men are happy to serve under Kadyrov.
Kadyrov may now be the undisputed leader of Moscow’s allies in Chechnya, but not all Chechens support him, and his uncompromising stance against opponents has driven many young men into the arms of the opposition.
The rebels may also be looking more attractive because of reports that a faction under Hussein Gakayev has broken away from the main leader Doku Umarov. Information from inside the insurgency is always patchy, but any departure away from Umarov’s strict Islamist vision and towards a more specifically Chechen nationalist stance is likely to expand the movement’s appeal for ordinary footsoldiers such as those who served the Yamadayevs.
Kadyrov has no rivals at the moment, and Moscow has no option now but to support him, so it is unlikely that we will see any change in the current stand-off.
Attacks appear to be regular occurrences in other regions of the North Caucasus, such as in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Is this linked to Chechnya?
Umarov claims to head a Caucasus-wide insurrection, and some of the local insurgencies have indeed been driven by fighters pushed out of Chechnya. In fact, an attack by radical Chechens on Dagestan was one of the reasons Moscow gave for its decision to restart the war in Chechnya in 1999 after a brief truce. It has been a long-term aim of Chechen leaders to expand the war into neighbouring regions and thus put more pressure on the Russian military.
Nonetheless, most of the fighting is caused by local issues. Young Muslims say the police unfairly target them, and the anger this generates has been skilfully exploited by guerrilla groups in search of new recruits for their battle against the Russian state. In Dagestan, meanwhile, the insurgents are closely linked to both political clans and mafia groups, in a bewildering three-way war between Islamists, local politicians and Russian troops.
Russia has poured billions of roubles into the North Caucasus, and official unemployment rates have gone down dramatically. A lot of the money has been stolen, however, and – in a region where birth rates are high – widespread anger can be expected to persist among young people who struggle to find jobs, and express themselves through violence in an oppressive political climate.
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