Six years after Doku Umarov publicly rejected the idea of Ichkerian independence in favor of the Islamic state of the Caucasus Emirate, he continues to justify this change.
In a recent video posted on August 8, Umarov responded to questions from people who reside abroad that was taped sometime in July from the militant’s base of operation somewhere in Chechnya (www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoRhgTNqjzk). First, he spoke about the numbers of his insurgency, noting that a certain number of militants bear arms while others support them in the cities and villages. According to Umarov, having large numbers of insurgents in the mountains serves no purpose at the moment. The leader of the Caucasus Emirate has a point, because challenging the Russian army in the mountains and suburbs of cities would mean self-destruction for the insurgents. It is no wonder why only the Chechen rebels stay in the mountains. In the past, the Federal Security Service (FSB), police and special forces primarily killed Chechen insurgents in the mountainous and forested areas of the republic, not in the villages and towns. In contrast to Chechnya, the Russian government fights the rebel forces in other republics of the North Caucasus, such as Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, mainly within the villages and cities. This is the primary operational difference between the Chechen jamaat and other jamaats in the North Caucasus.
Umarov said in his video that the flow of North Caucasian volunteers to Syria is the result of the Caucasus Emirate’s refusal to accept more youth into its ranks. However, this statement contradicts Umarov’s own earlier diatribe against the outflow of Chechens to Syria (https://nohchipress.info/2012/11/6995). At the time, Umarov could not conceal his irritation with the Chechens who resided in Europe and went to fight in Syria, while none of them expressed a willingness to join those fighting in Chechnya. In a 2012 video address, Umarov deplored the fact that nobody was helping the jihad in the North Caucasus. In fact, it is in many ways easier for Chechens to join the Syrian opposition than the rebel forces in the North Caucasus. First, relatives are not put in danger by going to Syria, while the Chechen authorities persecute the relatives of anyone suspected of merely sympathizing with the North Caucasian rebels. Second, it is much easier to travel to Syria unnoticed than to travel to Chechnya through Russian border posts.
Umarov apparently extended his support for the Chechens fighting in Syria once he realized that he cannot stop this process and that it is better to pretend that the Chechens went there on his orders. Some commanders in Syria indeed emphasize that their groups are actually the units of the Caucasus Emirate (https://hunafa.com/?p=15423). Thus, Emir Salautdin, who is fighting in Syria, poses in a video wearing a T-shirt with “Imarat Kavkaz” (Caucasus Emirate) written on it. Emir Salautdin reproaches those who travel from the Caucasus to Syria to fight. It appears that the Chechen fighters in Syria and Umarov reached a mutually acceptable agreement, one of the provisions of which may be that many of the fighters in Syria will eventually go back to the Caucasus under Umarov’s command (https://svpressa.ru/society/article/70455/?mra=1).
Such an outcome is certainly realistic. Of course, not everybody will be able to return to Chechnya and Russia, but those who did not appear in videos will try to go back home and this could result in an intensification of the armed resistance. The security situation may deteriorate not only in the North Caucasus, but also in the other parts of Russian Federation, such as the Volga region. Some ethnic groups from the Volga region, including ethnic Russians, have reportedly been fighting in Syria. It is hard to determine now where and when the Syrian bomb will explode on the territory of the Russian Federation.
In his video, the leader of the armed opposition in the North Caucasus again touched on the question of why he was forced to abandon the idea of an independent Ichkeria. Umarov cast doubt on the succession rights of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria from the Mountainous Republic that was recognized by some countries in 1918. This proposition is dubious, given that Dzhokhar Dudaev repeatedly emphasized that he considered himself the successor of the Mountainous Republic (https://lib.rus.ec/b/293805/read), even though there are no legal documents that confirm Ichkeria legally derived from the Mountainous Republic of 1918–1921. Umarov’s primary objection against Ichkeria involves the alleged betrayal by Western countries, which did not recognize and support the leadership of Ichkeria throughout its existence, pursuing their narrow interests in Russia (https://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/08/08/99752.shtml). So the Caucasus Emirate leader’s proposal to replace the idea of Ichkeria with the idea of creating an Islamic state in the Caucasus underscores the utopian character of any plans to establish a secular state in this region. Umarov remained silent about the fact that none of the Islamic states had extended even verbal support to the Caucasus Emirate, let alone recognition.
At the end of his video, Doku Umarov called on those who support Ichkeria to repent and join the ranks of those who are fighting on behalf of the Caucasus Emirate’s ideology.
The fact that Umarov returned to this issue six years after proclaiming the Caucasus Emirate is a strong indicator that there are internal disagreements appearing among Chechens. The disputes within the Chechen community must have been caused by the emergence of Chechen youth organizations among the Chechen immigrants in the West (www.chechenpress.org/news/1595-pervaya-konferentsiya-chechenskoj-molodezhi-v-evrope-projdet-v-estonii.html). It is an open secret that these organizations support the concept of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The London-based Chechen opposition figure, Akhmed Zakaev and members of the Ichkerian parliament firmly stand on this platform. Naturally, Doku Umarov does not recognize them and considers them historical relics of the past (https://www.nr2.ru/incidents/246244.html).
Therefore, Umarov’s video address should be regarded as part of the struggle for the Chechen youth who have wound up in Europe after the mass exodus of Chechens from the North Caucasus. Who wins this struggle for the hearts and minds of the Chechen youth in Europe will affect many things, including the stability of European countries themselves. Currently more than 200,000 Chechens have fled to Western Europe, and these asylum seekers increasingly will become a new powerful voice in the Chechen opposition movement that Russia’s self-defeating policies created. It also is a voice that Umarov will find hard to ignore.