Can Anti-Umarov Rebel Faction Win Support Among Non-Muslims?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 11 Issue: 7

On October 13, the Chechen rebel website posted an item following up on the video posted by the site on October 7, in which three top rebel field commanders –Khusein Gakaev, Aslambek Vadalov and Tarkhan Gaziev– said they had renounced their oath of allegiance to Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel leader and “emir” of the Caucasus Emirate, because he refused to seek the advice of other “emirs” and allegedly dismissed the Majlis al-Shura, the legislative organ of the Caucasus Emirate. They also announced that Gakaev had been elected as “Emir of the Vilayat of Nokhchicho [Chechnya]” (EDM, October 8).
In the new posting, says that following the October 7 posting, “some Caucasus media” had spread “disinformation aimed at discrediting the military-political leadership of Nokhchicho” by reporting that only four rebel field commanders –Gakaev, Vadalov, Gaziev and the Arab field commander Mukhannad– had renounced their oath of allegiance to Umarov. The website went on to name more than two dozen other field commanders it said had also renounced their oath of allegiance to Umarov and declared allegiance to “the new leadership of Nokhchicho” (;section=1#39985).
In a related development, Akhmad Zakaev, the London-based Chechen rebel emissary, announced on October 11 that he was stepping down as prime minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) and dissolving its cabinet. Zakaev told rebel Radio Marsho that the Chechen “mujahideen” had decided to “reconstruct” in Chechnya the ChRI State Defense Committee –Majlis al-Shura (GKO-MSh ChRI) – which, he said, is the “highest state organ” during a period of war, and had elected Gakaev as its leader. Zakaev added that Gakaev was a member of the GKO-MSh ChRI even before Umarov, “violating state laws, carried out his provocation.”
Zakaev also said that he and his fellow ChRI government ministers “fully support” the decision to elect Gakaev as leader and had decided to divest themselves of authority while continuing to carry out their duties until the GKO-MSh ChRI forms a new Chechen government (, October 12). Zakaev was also quoted as saying that the Chechen fighters had “distanced themselves from this mythical state under the name of ‘[Caucasus] Emirate,’” whose advocates had pushed for “continuous jihad” while “forgetting about their main goal –the struggle for the independence of Ichkeria” (,, October 12).
It should be noted while they renounced their oath of allegiance to Umarov, Gakaev, Vadalov and Gaziev said in their October 7 statement that the creation of the Caucasus Emirate, declared by Umarov in 2007, had been a “correct decision.” The three field commanders also said that they were still part of the Emirate and were not splitting off from their insurgent “brothers” in the other “vilayats” of the North Caucasus (EDM, October 8).  
In an indirect confirmation of the potential significance of Zakaev’s declaration of allegiance to Gakaev, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on October 13 accused Zakaev of having ordered the attack on Tsentoroi, Kadyrov’s home village, on August 29. The Chechen government has blamed Gakaev and his group for the attack and announced a reward for Gakaev’s capture. Speaking to a world forum of Chechens organized by his government in Grozny, Kadyrov claimed that Zakaev had asked Gakaev to mount the attack on Tsentoroi in the run-up to the World Congress of the Chechen People that took place in Warsaw on September 16-18 (EDM, September 17), in return for recognizing Gakaev as the leader of the remnants of the militants. Kadyrov said that relatives of the six policemen who died and of the local residents who were wounded during the attack on Tsentoroi had declared a “blood feud” against Zakaev (Interfax, October 13).
Political analyst Ruslan Martagov suggested that by renouncing the jihadist Caucasus Emirate, Gakaev and his allies and supporters, including Akhmed Zakaev, could widen their appeal and possibly draw into their ranks non-Muslims who are ready to rebel against the federal government over a variety of grievances, including abuses at the hands of the police and other security forces (, October 13).
Martagov cited the case of the “Primorsky partisans” –a group of young men in Russia’s Far East who allegedly attacked police stations and killed two police officers earlier this year ( He also cited similar incidents that took place in the Astrakhan region, where a string of attacks on policemen this past summer left three officers dead.