Militants in the North Caucasus often strike in the autumn, and October this year has not been an exception. Attacks on the structures and personnel of Russia’s Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) not only have not abated, but appear to be part of a mass action of armed opposition against the authorities across the region.
With increasing frequency one now hears news reports about the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria, where the Yarmuk Jamaat is no longer considered by the authorities to be a mythical entity. They are forced to acknowledge the jamaat’s existence and to take action against its members. Indeed, the president of Kabardino-Balkaria, Arsen Kanakov, unlike his predecessor Valery Kokov, recently admitted the existence of jamaat activity in the Republic (Gazeta, October 13). Moreover, he has acknowledged the fact that young people in the republic are joining the militants in the mountains and even went as far as not to rule out the possibility of a repeat of the capture of Nalchik by the militants, as happened on October 13-14, 2005 (Caucasus Times, October 9). This was the first official acknowledgement of the fact that the youth in the republic are joining the ranks of the armed opposition. That is, a fact which has already been acknowledged in Chechnya and Ingushetia and is now the case in Kabardino-Balkaria as well.
Thus, it is possible to state that the phenomenon of youth joining the ranks of radical jamaat groups is not characteristic of Chechnya: indeed, it has expanded to the areas where jamaats are active and consequently can become the Russia’s main problem in this volatile region. In other words, the entire region of the North Caucasus will not be exhibiting signs of stabilization for the foreseeable future regardless of how much that is desired by the Russian leadership in anticipation of the impending Olympic games in the city of Sochi.
Against this backdrop, the comments made by FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov on October 14 came as no surprise. Bortnikov said that more than 69 terrorist acts have been prevented so far this year alone, including several terrorist acts that were set to take place in the vicinity of Sochi and Adler in accordance with orders issued by Dokka Umarov (www.lentacom.ru/news/11827.html).
It should be noted here that Sochi and its surrounding districts are the historical homeland of one of the ethnic sub-groups of the Adyg people—the Shapsugs (www.memo.ru/hr/discrim/meshi3/6krasd011.htm). During the period of the colonization and conquest of the North Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the 19th century, the majority of Shapsugs were eliminated and the few survivors were deported to Turkey. At present the remnants of this tiny ethnic group residing in the Sochi district number only about several thousand people (according to the 2002 population census, 3,200 people). This circumstance can become an attractive factor for the jamaats because any strike there will be extremely painful for Russia and at the same time it can be presented as an act of revenge for a legitimate historical grievance. The indirect confirmation of this sort of strategizing was the arrest of Arsen Setov, identified as “the leader of Adyg Wahhabis.” To be sure there was much speculation about the existence of an Adyg Jamaat, but there was no concrete information proving that it represented an active combat unit within the structure of the armed opposition in the North Caucasus (Interfax, October 9).
No less important was an unexpected public demonstration in support of the unification of the republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia (North Caucasus Weekly, October 16). Officials of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration have voiced this idea frequently in the past, but the harsh responses from the Ingush authorities often pushed this issue off the agenda temporarily. Yet, taking advantage of the on-going elections to Chechnya’s so-called “Kadyrov’s Parliament,” this time around the demonstration took place in the village of Sernovodsk in Chechnya’s Sunzha district without the approval or support of the republics’ heads, Ramzan Kadyrov and Murat Zyazykov. Residents of both republics were brought there by buses, which has not happened since 1992. Thus, Moscow’s desire to unify the two fraternal peoples in a united Checheno-Ingushetia was publicly announced as if it was on the two peoples’ behalf: such a demonstration would never have taken place before the elections unless it was on Moscow’s orders.
In pushing the idea of the unification of Chechnya and Ingushetia, Moscow wants to resolve several tasks at the same time. One of these tasks is to replace Zyazykov, who is hated by the Ingush, with the even more odious figure of Ramzan Kadyrov (see Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky’s comments, www.svobodanews.ru/Article/2008/10/17/20081017191324617.html). A second task is to resolve the territorial dispute between the Chechens and Ingush over the Sunzha district, caused by the fact that no border was drawn there between the two republics in 1992. The most important task that Moscow is seeking to resolve by merging Chechnya and Ingushetia is to spread the “visible success” Moscow has achieved in Chechnya, where all symptoms of separatism are drowned out by the loud exhortations about the loyalty of Ramzan Kadyrov and his team toward Moscow and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally. A successful unification would reduce tension in Ossetian-Ingush relations because the Ingush would be busy sorting out their position within the new republic and the problem of North Ossetia’s Prigorodny district, which the Ingush claim from the Ossetians and led to an ethnic cleansing in 1992 (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 11, 2007).
All of this is forcing Moscow to adopt ways that resolve the question of the unification of these republics. At the same time, popular opinion will not be taken into account: the only opinion that will be considered will be that expressed by the small part of the population, which is loyal to the authorities. In Chechnya proper, the proposed unification does not promise anything for Chechens other than the loss of a certain percentage of high-ranking positions, given that an administrative reform will be carried out, over the course of which it will be necessary to determine who will have the top roles—Ingush or Chechens. At the same time, this will reduce to naught all the efforts the Ingush have made over the past 16 years to organize their republic, leaving them once again as the provincial periphery of a republic in which the center will undoubtedly be in Grozny, which will again attract the Ingush intelligentsia and political elite. It took several days for the Ingush authorities to finally announce that they had not been consulted regarding the organization of the aforementioned demonstration (“Govorit Moskva” radio, October 17).
In the meantime resistance fighters carried out a series of audacious acts, including the occupation of two foothill settlements populated by the Ingush—Muzhichi and Yandare. It should be noted that these villages are relatively sizeable—with populations more than 1,000 and 10,000, respectively—and are located on the way to the mountainous part of Ingushetia. The occupation of these villages was so unexpected and unpleasant for Ingushetia’s leadership that the authorities were clearly not ready to react in a manner appropriate to the circumstances. For instance, the republic’s prosecutor general, Yury Turygyn, was compelled to state that “he did not have the information” about the actions (Ingushetia.org, North Caucasus Weekly, October 16), even though Muzhichi and Yandare are located only 30 kilometers away from where the prosecutor spoke and he could have traveled there in 15-20 minutes from his residence in Nazran or at least called the local administration in these villages or even sent a courier in order to determine what was happening on the ground. Meanwhile, the militants set up a checkpoint and calmly inspected passing vehicles and examined passenger’s documents while urging residents to abandon pernicious habits such as alcohol consumption and gambling.
The militants who occupied Muzhichi and Yandare were waiting for a reaction from the Russian law-enforcement and defense authorities, but that gargantuan machinery always takes time before it moves forward. The militants left the villages without losses and since then became sort of heroes on the Internet. On on-line forums such as Ingushetia.org and Kavkazchat the youth in a characteristic manner presented this action by the militants as an assault carried out by the Ingush Jamaat “Shariat.” It is noteworthy that this jamaat has been continuously headed by Amir Magas (Akhmad Yevloev) ever since it was founded at the start of the combat operations in Chechnya during the second military campaign in 1999.
This was not the first attack on the village of Muzhichi. During a similar operation this summer, three people were killed and several were wounded (Interfax-russia.ru, July 9). In addition, the rebels’ occupation of villages was accompanied by a number of lower scale attacks in various villages around Ingushetia, including explosions, shootings and assaults on the structures associated with the authorities.