When Chechen refugees leave Russia to settle in foreign countries, they are mainly concerned with the physical safety of their family members. However, over the years, members of the Chechen Diaspora have become increasingly convinced that their status as political refugees has not given them immunity from continuous harassment and persecution by the Russian special services. Nor are Chechens abroad immune from Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s idée fix to forcibly return those members of the diaspora who remain active in supporting Ichkeria’s eventual independence from Russia.
Assassinations of Chechens abroad are no longer rare. Against the backdrop of the widely reported murder of a Chechen in Austria at the beginning of this year, barely noted was the news on February 27 from Turkey, where, according to the chief representative of the Caucasus Emirate, “the Deputy Chief Representative of the Vekalat (representation of the Caucasus Emirate abroad), who prior to 2008 was the Chief Representative of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria abroad, Musa Ataev, died at the enemy’s hands” (https://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2009/03/01/64258.shtml).
Few in the Chechen Diaspora (in Europe, America and Asia) doubt that it was Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) that carried out the assassination of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in Qatar in early 2004 (https://www.grani.ru/Politics/Russia/FSB/m.60253.html) and Aleksandr Litvinenko’s poisoning in Britain in late 2006 (https://www.grani.ru/Events/Crime/m.117411.html). This dark tally undoubtedly includes the multiple murders of Chechens in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, including the assassination of Vakha Ibragimov in September 2003 (https://www.kommersant.ru/doc-y.aspx?DocsID=1127767), and Imran Gaziev, deputy chief representative of Ichkeria, in September 2007 (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1235589.html), the murder of Islam Dzhanibekov, who was a member of Emirate’s representation in Turkey, in December 2008 (https://palm.newsru.com/world/11dec2008/kill.html), as well as the sensational assassination of Ramzan Kadyrov’s former bodyguard, Umar Israilov, in Vienna, in January 2009 (https://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/russian/russia/newsid_7831000/7831206.stm).
The murder of Musa Ataev (who was known among Chechens under the nickname of “Masol”) in Istanbul (https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2009/02/27_kz_2950003.shtml) indicates that the Russian special services are serious about eliminating those who formerly represented and currently represent the armed underground movement of the North Caucasus abroad.
The murder of Musa Ataev in Istanbul was in all likelihood yet another well-planned special operation carried out by the Russian special services in the spirit of the statement made in 2004 by then-Russian President Vladimir Putin about the necessity of carrying strikes in any location of the world with the purpose of defending the interests of the Russian state (https://lenta.ru/terror/2004/09/17/powell/).
Ataev was a person from the highest ranks of the Emirate’s nomenklatura abroad. His purview included many issues related to the operations of the institutions of the Emirate abroad, and he was responsible for maintaining contact with the leader of the Chechen resistance movement Dokka Umarov. The 48-year-old Musa Ataev was not just one of Umarov’s confidants: he was Umarov’s cousin and thus the rebel leader’s particularly trusted person abroad.
The first time that Ataev’s name appeared in public discussions was around the time that Umarov announced the goal of establishing the Caucasus Emirate, which he said would replace an independent Ichkeria as the movement’s ultimate objective. This led to the split between Ataev and Umar Akhmadov (the leader of the jamaat led by the Akhmadov brothers), who, like Ataev, was living abroad. Ataev’s name also periodically appeared in revelations by this or that Chechen politician regarding unsuccessful attempts made by the FSB to try to win him over.
It is also worth noting that the actual head of the external relations agency of the Caucasus Emirate (Vekalat), Shamsuddin Batukaev, was in direct communication with Ataev, and that is why Batukaev, in his appeals to Umarov, always tried to underscore the unity of his position with that of Ataev. Ataev was the guarantor of a statement’s gravitas, as well as for appeals to various Islamic organizations for financial support. Ataev’s influence among the supporters of the Caucasus Emirate can be judged by the fact that even such a figure as Movladi Udugov was his subordinate. Ataev controlled all the representatives of the North Caucasian jamaats abroad, and they coordinated all their contacts abroad through him.
As a person who consciously decided to pursue this path, Ataev probably expected this outcome: indeed, he knew that the Russian special services are primarily interested in cutting off the flow of funds to the armed underground. Thus, it is possible to conjecture that Ataev’s assassination struck a serious blow to Umarov, but it was not a mortal blow because Ataev acted as a double for the chief representative of the Caucasus Emirate (Vekalat), Shamsuddin Batukaev. In other words, the overall fundraising activities will continue uninterrupted and in the same direction as when Ataev was alive.
Turkey, unlike during the first military campaign in Chechnya in 1994-1996, has clamped down on fundraising and transfer of funds in support of the armed underground, such activities have become illegal. Thus control over these activities or even approximate estimates of revenues in this area is simply no longer feasible. However, there is no doubt that both politicians and people from the highest political and business elite of the Islamic world, who are not pleased with Russia’s policy in the Caucasus region, could have allocated funds that should have been directed to aid the objectives of the armed North Caucasian underground as represented by the supporters of the Caucasus Emirate.
In general, the armed underground of the North Caucasus has long been functioning according to the principle that “there are no indispensable people in the ranks of resistance,” meaning that little depends on one particular individual since everything is interdependent (through the vast network of cells comprised of several members each). This means that if there are losses, then a person who has been killed is immediately replaced by someone who was close to him and knows all the channels of communication and actions of his predecessor. That is why the Russian special services still cannot understand why the assassination or defection of this or that figure does not have an impact on the overall state of the resistance movement. Even if the Russians understood this phenomenon, they are more interested in the propaganda value of their actions, which is why they always try to present a person who has been killed or detained as the resistance figure who is the most dangerous and indispensable.
For Turkey, the assassination of Ataev yet again raises the question of the Chechen opposition’s presence and operations on Turkish soil, and Moscow will certainly take advantage of this by pressing Ankara to toughen measures against those whom the Kremlin labels “bandits.” This is the third murder of Dokka Umarov’s representatives in Turkey in the past five months (https://www.waynakh.com/tr/?p=1724). However, the Turkish government cannot afford to implement a harsh policy toward those who have long abandoned the armed Chechen opposition. The members of the armed resistance in the North Caucasus today hail from across the entire region and represent a sizeable diaspora in Turkey, which, according to various sources, is estimated at 5 million and more. Consisting of Cherkess, Adygs, Kabardins, Ossetians, Chechens, Ingush, and Dagestanis, the North Caucasian Diaspora in Turkey is influential, because many of its representatives occupy high positions throughout the Turkish government. Moreover, the opinion of the Chechen Diaspora is always understood in the strategic context within the overall Turkish policy of pan-Turkism. Thus, the policy of expanding influence in the regions of the former USSR, including the Caucasus, the Volga region, Crimea and Central Asia, remains a priority in Turkish foreign policy. This, in turn, allows one to conclude that Ankara’s attitude toward North Caucasians is unlikely to change, even in the wake of yet another assassination.