A Look Back at Insurgent Activities in the North Caucasus in 2008

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 1

The results of 2008 for the North Caucasian resistance movement are ambiguous. Against the backdrop of militant activities by the jamaats of Ingushetia and Dagestan—and also compared with the somewhat less intense activities of the militants in Chechnya—very little can be said about the activities of the once notoriously daring “Karachai” and “Nogai Steppe” Jamaats.

The significant outcome of the past year was the recognition of the Jamaat of Adygea’s existence (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=17129), although over the years—and perhaps from the moment of its possible inception in 2005 by Shamil Basaev—it has hardly distinguished itself as a combat unit of the resistance (http://www.newsru.com/russia/29jun2006/boi.html#2). It should be noted that it was the analysts of the Jamestown Foundation who spoke about the possibility of the creation of this jamaat for the first time at a conference on May 21, 2007. Although there was no direct evidence that Shamil Basaev had managed to create this particular jamaat, his inspection tour of the North Caucasus in 2006 left open many questions about its existence (http://www.newsru.com/russia/31may2006/boi.html;  http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=678192). According to Russian sources, it is precisely during that period that Shamil Basaev held an expanded meeting of jamaat leaders, and that among the Emirs of the various national jamaats was the Emir of the Jamaat of Adygea. In any case, the very fact of the existence of jamaats extending from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea represented the success of militant propaganda.

However, the dissolution of jamaats with the aim of their subsequent merger into a unified jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia should be considered a weak moment in the evolution of the resistance movement. By doing so, the resistance movement admitted that the role of Jamaat “Karachai” has been weakened to such a degree that it necessitated its unification with the jamaat of Kabarda-Balkar, “Yarmuk,” which is headed by the Emir Seifullah (aka Anzor Astemirov). He is one of the main figures in the hierarchy of the North Caucasian resistance movement in which he heads, and serves as the Chairman of the Supreme Sharia Court of armed underground (http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2008/07/13/59454.shtml). Thus, in this case the given jamaat, which existed since 1991, basically exited the political game (http://www.religare.ru/article28642.htm). Although the jamaat under the leadership of Anzor Astemirov undoubtedly became more active in the past year as it struck the law enforcement authorities in the republic, it still did not conduct any military operations. In the meantime, police and Federal Security Service (FSB) forces carried out a number of operations to liquidate jamaat members in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Another jamaat that did not distinguish itself by being as active in the past year was the ethnically homogenous jamaat of Nogais, “Nogai Steppe” (encompassing Stavropol Krai and the northern regions of Chechnya and Dagestan). Unlike with the Karachai jamaat, however, the resistance leaders did not disband this jamaat. Instead they separated it into a separate administrative structure—the Nogai steppe vilayat (http://www.kavkaz.org.uk/russ/content/2007/12/10/54917.shtml)—thereby emphasizing that it would be premature to talk of this jamaat in the past tense. Although isolated actions, including armed assaults and explosions, were carried out in the region under its control, this jamaat was not noted in the military operations conducted under the command of the Caucasus Emirate.

On the other hand, one of the smallest and youngest jamaats, “Kataib al-Khoul” (the Ossetian jamaat), frequently issued statements about this or that operation carried out on the territory of the Northern Ossetia-Alania. Established under the command of Alan Digorsky (aka Emir Saad), this jamaat remains one of the most mysterious to date (Kommersant, November 28, 2008). Because its leaders do not reveal their real names, behind the name Alan Digorsky may be a person of any nationality, which does not allow us to assert today that this jamaat is ethnic and was created by the Ossetians or that it is dominated by the Ingush, who earlier resided in the environs of Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. The republic’s high crime rate also provides this jamaat with a kind of “informational support”: indeed, the recent high-profile assassinations in the republic should not always be attributed to the actions of the jamaat. On the contrary, the authorities, who routinely deny this jamaat’s existence on the territory of the republic (http://region15.ru/articles/1818/), find it convenient to blame such crimes against society on unknown international terrorists (www.lenta.ru/news/2008/11/27/foreign).

In Chechnya, against the backdrop of the image of the nation’s “savior” constantly spun around the personality of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen jamaat more frequently appears in the chronicles of mutual recriminations by the representatives of the separatists’ two main popular movements—the Salafis and those who adhere to the position of the democratic platform. Yet, unlike in 2007, militant activities in 2008 were slightly higher and this was more frequently associated with the name of Emir Tarkhan (Tarkhan Gaziev), who is one of the closest aides to Dokku Umarov in the western part of Chechnya (the militants informally divide the entire Chechen region along the Argun River). The mutual accusations of collaboration with the FSB have long become a regular occurrence. At the same time it should be noted that the level of enthusiasm for the militants’ actions concerning the creation of the Caucasus Emirate is gradually beginning to decline among Chechen youth. At least, if judged by the comments from on-line Chechen forums, the Salafi positions are no longer defended as aggressively as before. To a large extent, the youngest participants, for whom the militant image still embodies the romanticism and heroism of the struggle against the Russian monster, are still the most ardent supporters of the Caucasus Emirate idea. At the same time, the democratic wing, as manifested by Akhmed Zakaev, is experiencing not the best of times, because practically all of its former supporters have returned to Chechnya (this includes the leading politicians of the top echelon—Umar Khanbiev and Ramzan Ampukaev), while others, who once vowed to stay with Zakaev until the end, resigned (Isa Munaev and Salambek Amaev) (http://www.chechenpress.info/events/2008/12/16/05.shtml), which testifies to a serious crisis for Chechen democrats.

Ingushetia happily greeted the resignation of the much hated president, Murat Zyazikov, and are attempting to give a chance to the new president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, in the hope that the new leadership will shield the republic’s citizens from the mopping-up operations and abductions that are being carried out by unknown armed entities, which are most frequently associated with Ingushetia’s law-enforcement authorities. The democratic opposition attempted to pretend that everything that was taking place in Ingushetia was the result of Murat Zyazikov’s inept leadership and decided to close its eyes to the fact that a majority of incidents are the result of actions by militants from the Ingush Jamaat “Sharia” (headed by Emir Magas, also known by his lay name of Akhmed Yevloev). It is this jamaat that continues to strike blows against representatives of the law-enforcement authorities, religious figures, liquor stores and gambling establishments on a daily basis. The change of leadership in the jamaat had no impact on its policies. Likewise, the policy of the authorities toward those suspected of adhering to Salafi ideas has not changed, either. Against this backdrop, the actions by the so-called Ingush opposition appear rather strange and illogical.

Finally, even though the Dagestani Jamaat “Sharia” did incur losses—including the loss of its leader Abdul-Mejid (Ilgar Malachiev), who managed to create a new jamaat on the territory of Azerbaijan—it remains the main moving force of the armed resistance. He was replaced by the leader of the Makhachkala jamaat, Emir Muaz (Umar Sheikhulaev) (http://www.jamaatshariat.com/content/view/944/41).

The new leader of Dagestani militants hails from a region where there are daily reports of explosions and armed attacks on law-enforcement authorities and on people who are, according to the militants, collaborating with the authorities to harm the militants. Despite the many losses in the ranks of the jamaat that occurred during operations to eliminate the militants, the capabilities of this jamaat are stronger than any other entity in the North Caucasus.

Thus, by adding up the pluses and minuses of this or that jamaat in the North Caucasus, it is possible to generally state that they continue to inflict considerable and painful blows against regional authorities. Based on the events that transpired at the end of the year in different parts of the North Caucasus, there are ample reasons to be assured that 2009 will also be a difficult and unpredictable year for the Russian Federation. Moscow is increasingly incapable of controlling the actions of militants on such a large territory stretching from the Caspian to the Black Sea.